Shipping Container Restaurants

One Size Fits a Lot (of shipping container restaurant concepts)

Fundamentally a shipping container restaurant is just a different way to build a restaurant, and it has to be up to all the building and health codes that any regular brick and mortar would have to be. Form follows function and the shape of a container can be an interesting start for the architect to play with – although units are fully customizable. 

Standard ISO certified actual shipping containers used for a restaurant – of the kind that would be transporting cargo across the ocean were they not soon to be part of your shipping container restaurant – are structurally one of the easiest units to work with: it is a hardened steel rectangle and reinforced on all pressure and stress points to boot. 

Despite growing popularity not everyone is familiar with the concept, and it can take some convincing to get a whole project team or city officials on board. Some convincing arguments in favor of a shipping container restaurant are: 

  • Modularity – standardized sizes and unit buildouts allow for variety and flexibility on a budget. 
  • Units can be built off-site and out of state or outside of the country, even, allowing better costs and lead times. 
  • Setting up inside a larger space or on unbuilt terrain is made easy – inside a large warehouse or corporate lobby, or even a parking lot or field a turnkey ready to go restaurant unit can be set up in no time.  
  • Less of the investment is intrinsically attached to the rented space, so you can move the location or sell container units while keeping more value intact than if remodeling the restaurant space is tied to a rental brick and mortar you do not own.  
  • Design! The shipping container aesthetic is unique and can be repurposed however you want it to be – from high end sophistication to rough industrial looks or vintage Americana. 

Last but not least, on average a shipping container restaurant is at least 30% cheaper than a comparable brick and mortar shop, everything said and done, and built in 60% of the time a normal construction project takes. 

Is a shipping container restaurant a fixed size?

No, sizes vary between ISO certified containers and many designs end up needing adjustments. 

Stacked containers, interaction between the units and custom size requirements can only be accomodated by modifying true containers or making a custom construction using corrugated steel paneling on the outside of your shipping container restaurant to mimic the look of a true sea container. 

Especially the width can be an issue – fitting all the kitchenware, the electric, plumbing and insulation into 8 feet is not always possible when having to meet local code requirements.  





Shipping Container Restaurant
BAM Engineering in talks with customer

Will these units be up to my local code?

Although Karpatia is a global company, part of our US based team includes designers and engineers licensed in 43 states and reciprocity for those in which they are not can be requested if we are in time for that given your project deadline. Or we can subcontract some of the planning and engineering to an engineer and/or architect licensed in your state if that expedites the project. 

If you are from Canada or somewhere in Europe and have no idea what you just read, be glad: licensing and permits in the US are in(s)ane, Karpatia does projects globally and it is likely a similar container project is a substantially smaller investment outside of the USA.

We always consult with local officials and experts/engineers where our own expertise falls short to ensure all units are delivered turnkey up to code. 

That includes drafting the siteplan if you have no architect of your own, a plan for the unit(s) including wiring, plumbing and materialization and if necessary on-site tours of our facility for inspectors and direct contact and involvement in managing the approval process to get the city or other authority on board. Although many US counties are quite forward thinking and allow virtual inspections of both the unit being built and the workshop it is being produced. 

How much work local approval is varies – some jurisdictions are extremely supportive of local business, others not so much so (e.g. Amsterdam or NYC). 

How much does a shipping container restaurant cost?

Prices on average start from $50k per unit – as a whole project the cost could be as much as $200k or more if you are building a container village or complex. It depends enormously on the complexity of the total plan, how many containers, how you want them to interact, what equipment and where it is being built and how cumbersome local regulation is. To provide a little more insight we break the cost down into component parts.

The Base Unit - how much is a 40ft container?

As a base unit the shipping container is just a steel box – ISO certified and reinforced, sure, but these are still available in the range of $3-5k or so both new and used.

Containers can be “high cube” meaning 9’6” (2896mm) instead of 8’6” (2591mm) and 40ft (~12m) or 20ft (~6m),  without any substantial price difference between the various units. 

Custom steel constructions are a little more expensive but the base unit is never a great contributor to the cost. 


Shipping Containers for Sale & Rent - Custom conversions of shipping containers for food service and hospitality

Shipping Container Restaurant Design

How much work can it really be to engineer out a rectangle with a kitchen in it? You would be surprised. 

Our process starts with the visual/graphic design of your unit including a 3d render and a base layout proposal including equipment. When you sign off on that, the project moves into the true engineering phase. 

That includes architectural designs (optionally with a siteplan), structural engineering review for both local and state codes, providing a blueprint/MEP, calculating circulation and airflow and incidentally even providing shop drawings of the custom fabricated kit inside of your unit. 

Although very few people die in lawless places such as Texas, Belgium or Germany on an annual basis in shipping container restaurants where sinks and shelves were constructed without shop drawings, many locales do require all of the above. This can add as much as $25k purely in design and engineering costs and 6-8 weeks of lead time when including the time required to get these designs a governmental stamp of approval. 


Getting a container unit up to restaurant standards includes a.o. the following:


  • Pllumbing, electrical wiring, 
  • Insulation, 
  • Flooring, 
  • Paint or wrap, 
  • Cladding, 
  • Finishes and lighting 
  • Parapets and/or roof top patios
  • Fitting concession window(s), door(s)

On-site Services

If you are not or do not have a general contractor and units need to be installed, the terrain levelled, etc.. 

There will be a setup fee involved in getting the project ready even though the unit itself is as close to turnkey as a unit can be. 



A broad range  – the lowest complete package comes in at $12k but as commercial kitchens go the same variety in quality and the amount of gear you want to kit the kitchen out with can be fitted into container units, as by themselves some ovens are $40k as a standalone item there really is no one price. 

Whatever your budget is Karpatia will strive to give you the best package available that suits your planned investment. 

Can I build a shipping container restaurant in all environments?

Do Shipping Containers get hot inside?

Yes, they certainly do get hot without proper insulation. When engineering out a unit local requirements are not purely a matter of local governance, windforce, rainfall, heat and other conditions need to be taken into account – you need a very different container in Saskatoon than you would in Saudi Arabia. 

Whether it means coating the unit in special thermal insulate latex paint to keep the heat down or adding air curtains inside the concession window for Canadian customers, our units are always engineerd to customer specifications. 

Can we help build your shipping container restaurant?

Frequently Asked Questions

If local code allows, yes! The standard height of the unit is not ideal for a seated driver but with minor modifications to your site it is very feasible to create a drive through. 

No. Ghost kitchens are  mostly used for delivery orders and are quite often concession trailers or food trucks, not always a container. 

Containers can be used for full service restaurant concepts with sit-down dining and are not limited to use as a ghost kitchen.

No, probably not. Your city will have zoning laws and other limitations placed on new establishments.

You must check with the local council whether it is allowed before signing any rental agreements.

Yes, we ship to Canada. Our prices are most competitive if you are based on the east coast or in the Toronto area.

Yes, we will deliver it right up to your desired delivery location in under 72 hours after completion of the build. 

Containers go everywhere, but we might not have a local forwarder in your country (yet), in which case we will find one together with you. 

Yes, the containers are extremely modular and can be stacked in most jurisdictions without running into building codes and zoning issues. If you have more space available, they can also easily be joined together horizontally on a level plane. Plus not all units are a true sea shipping container, rather a custom construction that just visually resembles a container.


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