Shipping containers have had application in various industries, especially in construction and storage, and today they are also seen in the restaurant industry. Yes, some restaurants are now made out of shipping containers.

If you want to open a restaurant or bar but you’re intimidated by the high overhead, risk factors and high costs, one way to make your dream of owning a restaurant come true while keeping your costs down is by resorting to shipping containers. Shipping containers are actually creating a design revolution in the restaurant industry.

One good thing about shipping container restaurants is that they can be manufactured in half the time needed to build a stick or brick construction. So, you will save at least 3 months, that’s a loss of approximately 28% of annual gross profit if you go with brick-and-mortar store. The bitter truth which is usually overlooked is that every week your restaurant isn’t open, you’re losing 2.3% gross revenue.

In addition, reusing waste material boosts green credibility. On the minus side, shipping container construction poses potential difficulty in obtaining permits, limitations on design options and potentially overestimated cost savings.

Restaurant operators can choose to assemble shipping containers in many configurations, ranging from single units or by combining them like Lego blocks. Designers can finish the interiors and exteriors of these units with many types of materials including; wood, metal, stucco, cement board — you name it.

Large chains including Starbucks and Taco Bell have tinkered with container-built structures over the past few years, and it appears the use of these readily available materials may be more than a fad.

How Much Does It Cost to Build a Shipping Container Restaurant?

Because there’s so much supply and not much demand (for now), you can pick up shipping containers quite cheap. On average, a mildly used container will costs less than $5,000. Yet another cost associated with shipping containers is that you’ll have to prep them. Be prepared to spend a little money adding insulation and windows to your container.

You can find a good used shipping container from $1500, a decent one from $2500 and a brand new shipping container usually starts at $4000. Strangely enough this ratio just about holds true no matter if you are getting a 10-, 20- or 40 foot container or a high cube – a container with a raised ceiling.

The total cost of building a shipping container restaurant will largely be driven by design, materials, inventory and labor. Prices start at approximately $15,000 for pre-fab smaller models with modest designs. When converting a shipping container to a restaurant, you can expect the prices to be in the following range;

  • Design – $55 per hour
  • Labor – $33 per hour
  • Shipping is usually $1500-2500 port to port

This means the basic container steel and construction is really not the cost (or value) driver of these units. You can hunt for and find a bargain for your shipping container restaurant if a company near you is looking to get rid of a container in a hurry for business reasons and save a bit of money.

The money you save with shipping containers can be poured into start-up marketing expenses in getting your restaurant or bar off the ground.

Is the Cost Worth It? 

When you think about it, you can reason that reusing something that nobody wants should make for significant savings on construction, but sometimes it doesn’t work that way. While the cost of the boxes themselves, which are typically $4,000 or less, may be fairly cheap, it doesn’t really translate to great savings on the overall project. Often, container-built buildings turn out to be about the same cost as those constructed by traditional methods.

A typical price for a fully decked out 200-square-foot unit — licensed and shipped on a standard flatbed truck — runs about $225,000. Costs vary according to size, types of finishes and equipment specifications.

Converting containers into usable buildings requires cutting openings for windows, doors and utility lines. These structures often require the installation of insulation and finishes for the interior as well as the exterior. Operators that want to stack these units will have to add structural supports.

While similar to traditional construction, most of the techniques to do this work require tradespeople experienced in container conversions because the tight quarters of the structures don’t leave much room for error. This is why you can’t just call any random welder to help you out. Factoring in the cost of reconstruction can set you back quite some decent capital.


The kitchen is the heart of a restaurant, and having good flow-through allows servers and cooks to be efficient and safe. When you use an existing space, you have to work with what you have. A shipping container kitchen can be built any way you want it to be. You know what would work best for you and your crew, so container construction allows you to get as creative as you want.