How Much Do Shipping Container Restaurants Cost?
July 12, 2019
Good question! The short answer is, “It depends.”
There is a wide range of solutions that can fall under the shipping container restaurant category, all with different requirements and corresponding prices. As with any restaurant build-out, it will be very important to work with a designer to determine the best solution for your business model and the best building method to complement your budget. Some of the items that will affect your build-out price are:
- How will it be built? (At Boxman Studios, we have two methods; repurposed and purpose-built)
- How many containers will be needed?
- What is your menu and how do you plan to serve the items?
To give you a better understanding of where your restaurant may fall in the spectrum, we’ll give an overview of container restaurants and an explanation of the factors that impact your build-out cost, so we’re all starting on the same page. Then, we’ll show you the price for one of our standard, best-loved single-container restaurant models with footprints, photographs, and specs. Finally, we’ll end with a comparison between container build-out prices and prices for more traditional methods.
Overview and Cost-Impacting Decisions
Shipping container restaurants are built using shipping containers as the structural foundation. However, this is a very limiting view of what container restaurants can be and doesn’t paint an accurate picture of the prices you may need to pay in order to own one. Here’s a quick rundown of the factors that will affect your costs:
Repurposed vs Purpose Built
Container restaurants can be created using repurposed shipping containers, or built from scratch, using the same standard parts of a shipping container. You can read more about this difference here.
Single-Unit vs Combined and Stacked
You may want a traditional restaurant, meaning that you would like a kitchen, dining room, and restrooms to be inside the shipping containers. This means you’ll need to conjoin containers to create the required space. Alternatively, you may fit a kitchen inside a single container which means you’ll be taking orders and serving guests through a service window, like in a drive-thru or a food truck. In this case, we’ll recommend that you use a purpose-built option, to ensure that there’s enough space left for employees, once the equipment has been installed. More on this later.
Full Kitchen vs Warm Service vs Beverage Service vs Concessions
Listed from the (likely) most expensive to least expensive, here are the different kinds of kitchens (back of house only) a restaurant may have, and how they stack up against one another:
Full Kitchens are used for cooking menu items. These menus often include items that require fryers, ovens, and stove-top cooking, which means you’ll need to think about hoods and makeup air units. Not only are these items costly, but they also require extra structural support which can increase your build-out costs.
Warm Service means that many of your menu items are prepped off-site (usually in a commissary kitchen or at a larger franchise location), then assembled and warmed inside the container before they’re served. This means you’ll need refrigeration and some way to heat your items. Carefully consider how you approach your prep methods. Adding fried items means you’re back in full-kitchen territory. These restaurants are usually best for foodservice like soups, salads, and sandwiches.
Beverage Service means you serve no food or only pre-packaged food. Instead, you’re making drinks like coffee, smoothies, juice, or alcoholic beverages. Because you aren’t cooking anything, you can greatly reduce the amount of equipment you need, your power amperage, and refrigerated storage space (although you will still need refrigeration).
Concessions serve only pre-made food and drinks. Nothing is cooked or prepared in the container. Instead, you’ll only require dry and cold storage, depending on your inventory requirements.
Shipping Container Restaurant Cost
To give you a good idea about where you can expect to fall in price, we’re going to walk you through our standard single-unit that can be used for all four kitchen types.
You’ll notice that it isn’t the size of an ISO shipping container (standard: 20’ x 8’). That’s because it’s not made from an ISO shipping container. In our experience, the footprint of a standard container is far too narrow to fit the required insulation, equipment, and employees comfortably. The extra two feet make a huge difference to the people working inside the containers! So, we purpose-build most of our single-unit full and warm service kitchens.
An example of this working well is the build-out at Sparkman Wharf in Tampa, FL. Here’s a link to the blog post we wrote that announced their opening, a few photographs, and some high-level container restaurant footprints for the different tenant’s needs. They were all built the same. The property owners left it up to the tenants to make the structures work for their needs, which is different than our normal process.
20’x 10’x 9’ Kitchen Price and Specs
$95,000-$115,000 for design and build-out costs*
- Conceptual Rendering
- Architectural Review
- Engineering Review
- Local Code Review
- Equipment Layout
- Shop Drawings
- Makeup Air Calculations
- Footprint: 20’ x 10’ x 9’
- One Paint Color
- Durable Kitchen Floors (color options)
- 2 Service Windows
- Man Door
Code Required Items:
- 3 Compartment Mop and Hand Sink (Per health code requirements.)
- Exit Sign
Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing
- 400-amp panel (Standard for kitchens but may be reduced to 200-amp depending on your loads.)
- Standard Exterior and Interior Lighting
- Air Conditioning
This number does not include:
- Range Hood
- Makeup Air Unit
- Luxury Finishes
- Delivery/ On-site placement and connections (This will be based on your location and site conditions)
- Grease Traps (We recommend installing them outside of the container)
- POS System
- Restroom/ Dining Room (This is a single-unit kitchen with window service.)
- Equipment (These packages can run an additional $40,000-$50,000.)
How does this compare to the standard restaurant?
In the end, the cost to build out a kitchen using shipping containers isn’t all that different from traditional construction methods. According to this Martin Kovic Milford Architects article, you can expect to pay $180,000- $300,000 for a 600 square foot space. As we mentioned before, the challenge in comparing them is related to the price per square foot.
Typically, we avoid referring to project costs in square foot estimates, because traditional and shipping container restaurants are not an apples-to-apples comparison. Shipping containers are much smaller spaces, so we take the high-cost items like kitchen equipment and MEP scopes, and put them inside a smaller footprint. This means you’re getting the same functionality, but the high-costs of producing a commercial kitchen aren’t averaged out across a much larger space.
If you look at the overall square foot cost it takes to build a restaurant (only the build-out, no equipment), which would include the kitchen, dining room and restrooms, your range would fall between $400 – $700 per square foot. In comparison, our price for the 20’ x 10’ shipping container kitchen falls between $450-$750 per square foot for our standard build-out.
So, we’re still well within the expected range, but the comparison may feel a bit painful if you were expecting a much lower cost because the footprint is smaller. Remember, the big-ticket items are as much of a necessity in a shipping container as they are in a stick-built restaurant, and there are many benefits to using a shipping container instead of a traditional construction method.
The way you approach building your restaurant, the items you wish to serve, and your business model all have a huge impact on what you can expect your shipping container restaurant to cost. Ultimately, the price to build a shipping container restaurant isn’t very different from other construction methods, but the price per square foot can be impacted. If you have a project in mind, you don’t need to rely on these numbers. We’re happy to talk through your concept and provide a range based on your requirements. Fill out our contact form or call us at (704)333-3733 to start the estimation process.
*Cost estimates, though based on actual experience and current market conditions for materials and labor, are for educational and planning purposes only. Estimates for your specific project require consultation with a Boxman Studios Business Development Representative.