Recently, it’s seemed as though shipping containers are popping up everywhere and for every possible use. Some become storage units. Others take on new lives as houses and emergency shelters. They’re even used as swimming pools!
A shipping container restaurant is another example of this intriguing phenomenon.
Let’s find out some more! Here, we’ll look at what a shipping container is and what makes the idea of using one as a restaurant so appealing.
We’ll also explain how you get started with a shipping container restaurant as well as consider some examples of ones with innovative designs and demonstrated success.
The Appeal of Shipping Container Restaurants
A shipping container restaurant—also known as a storage container restaurant or cargo container restaurant—comes essentially already built. It has quite a sturdy structure too. Shipping containers can be refurbished and equipped for many different uses.
A shipping container restaurant, like any shipping container-based structure, has a hip industrial look that lends a certain cachet. It says “casual,” even if the food and service might be a little upscale.
The Basics of Shipping Containers
A lot of shipping containers have been built for intermodal shipping, meaning that they’re very sturdy and can transport goods without unloading from ships to trucks or trains, sometimes returning to different vessels.
Shipping containers were first constructed in the late 1960s. Manufacturers were held to tight standards by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Among other things, an engineer had to be employed at every factory to inspect and certify each unit.
A certification plate was attached to every container that passed the inspection. Each ISO container has a unique ID number that’s painted on all sides. Shipping containers come in many different sizes, some standard, others custom-made.
Repurposing Shipping Containers
With the growing interest in repurposing as an environmentally use of otherwise discarded materials, old shipping containers have taken on new lives. Today, there are companies (like us) that redesign old ISO shipping containers.
34,000,000 ISO shipping containers currently are in use throughout the world. When they’re no longer used for shipping, they can be fitted with windows, plumbing, insulation, HVAC systems, and other business and living features. Some container structures are temporary, others permanent.
Starting a Shipping Container Restaurant
So, how does someone go about starting a restaurant that’s housed in a former shipping container? As with any business start-up, it needs a business plan. The following items could be incorporated into such a plan.
Purchasing the Container
First, you need the container.
You can buy a 20-foot used shipping container for less than $3,000. That might work for a small food stand, cafe, or bar (not counting the costs of refurbishing). A full-blown restaurant really needs a larger space, though.
A 40-foot container would have room for a small kitchen, restrooms, and seating area. It would be a tight fit even at that. If this isn’t big enough for your project, consider placing two or more containers together.
Planning a Good Basic Menu
You’ll need a sample menu in your plan. Because of the limited space you’ll have and probably a limited budget as well, you should start with a smaller menu.
Feature a few basics (for picky eaters) along with some amazing signature items that will draw customers and make them want to come back.
Marketing the Restaurant
And speaking of signature items, a good business plan needs a marketing plan. Luckily, unless you’re already in an area that’s edgy and hip, a container restaurant is such a novelty that people might come just out of curiosity.
When they come, don’t let them down! You might want to exploit the shipping container theme in your marketing—at least as long as you don’t have a lot of competition in your restaurant’s location.
A Timely Idea?
What about offering branded “containment lunches and dinners” during the current social distancing period? This lighthearted theme could help lift people’s spirits as well as get you some repeat business.
Maybe promote it with photos of busy employees wearing masks and gloves?
Container Restaurants: Possibilities and Trends
Shipping container restaurants have caught on to the extent that they’re able to innovate. Some are even piggybacking on other positive social trends.
Of course, restoring and reusing heavy metal containers after years of wear and exposure to the elements (including saltwater) has been a primary inspiration behind container restaurants and other inexpensive building projects.
However, this trend has spread its tentacles in other directions as well. Here are a few examples.
Green Energy Use
One example is Montréal’s bright red MuvBox restaurant that uses solar panels for energy. Just think: If a restaurant in this very cool city—which also gets very cold in winter—what are the other possibilities for solar power?
It shouldn’t be surprising that architects have discovered the possibilities of shipping containers. For example, India’s RJDL architecture firm has found a niche in redesigning shipping containers.
Among its commissioned projects is a multi-purpose “recreational space” (including a cafe) for a dental college in Noida called Cafe Infinity.
Augmenting the Original Design
London’s Movement Café (MVMT Café) was a pop-up restaurant and performance space located in historic Greenwich Park during the early 2010s. The project was the brainchild of British designer and artist Morag Myerscough.
Side-by-side containers have become a fairly common sight, whether they’re for individual restaurants needing more space of restaurant marketplaces in high-tourism areas, near universities, or in other high-traffic places.
Consider the high-rise Subway restaurant located at New York City’s One World Trade Center (Freedom Tower). During the new skyscraper’s construction, this Subway met workers’ food needs by growing along with the tower.
Over time, multiple containers were stacked, matching the tower’s growth, up to a point, and serving workers. During the construction, as the new building rose, new containers were built to serve those working at different levels.
A Trend Not Yet Fully Contained?
You can see that there’s been a lot of innovation in the shipping container restaurant movement over the last decade or so. This movement has a bright future too. After all, it’s grounded in the principles of a sustainable economy.
If you want to get your feet wet with restaurant entrepreneurship, why not begin with shipping container restaurants—or maybe shipping container cafes or shipping container coffee shops at first?