Shipping Container Restaurants

Dining is an experience that everyone looks forward to. BMarko Structures’ custom shipping containers combine food with creativity that leaves a lasting impression on your customers. Upcycled or out of use shipping containers are finding a place in the daily lives of people, especially through their culinary desires. Get started today!

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What Are Shipping Container Restaurants?

A shipping container restaurant is a dining establishment constructed using repurposed shipping containers. These containers, typically 20 or 40 feet long, are modified to create functional, stylish, and sustainable restaurant spaces. This modular approach to restaurant design offers numerous benefits, including cost savings, reduced construction time, and environmental sustainability.

At BMarko Structures, we specialize in a wide range of custom shipping containers, including container restaurants. We fulfill orders to our customers’ unique specifications — we can help you assess your needs and develop the perfect modular design for your restaurant while following your local food facility policy.

shipping container restaurant concessions window

Modular Restaurant Design Process

Each of our modular restaurant components starts with a repurposed shipping container. Shipping containers are available in a wide range of sizes, but we use a 20’ or 40’ long unit for most commercial applications. Modular units can be designed to be stacked on top of one another or placed side by side for additional floor space.

We work with suppliers around the country to find the right high-quality containers for your needs and budget. Generally speaking, any unit can be a candidate for converting to a restaurant container. While newer containers are more expensive, they require less cleanup time to remove dents, rust and other imperfections.

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1. Concept Development​

The first step in creating a successful shipping container restaurant is developing a clear and compelling concept. This involves several critical considerations:

  • Cuisine: Decide on the type of food you will serve. Whether it’s a trendy coffee shop, a gourmet burger joint, or an upscale seafood restaurant, the cuisine will influence the design and layout of your container.

  • Target Audience: Identify your target market. Are you aiming to attract young professionals, families, or tourists? Understanding your audience will help shape the atmosphere and design elements.

  • Atmosphere: Determine the vibe you want to create. Do you envision a cozy, intimate setting or a vibrant, energetic space? Your desired atmosphere will guide your interior and exterior design choices.

2. Container Selection

Choosing the right containers is crucial for your project’s success. Shipping containers come in various sizes, but 20-foot and 40-foot units are the most commonly used for restaurant applications:

  • 20-Foot Containers: Ideal for smaller setups or when combining multiple units. They offer flexibility and ease of transport.

  • 40-Foot Containers: Provide more space, making them suitable for larger kitchens, dining areas, or when you need to accommodate more equipment and customers.

At BMarko Structures, we source high-quality containers from suppliers nationwide to match your specific needs and budget. While newer containers are more expensive, they require less refurbishment, such as dent removal and rust treatment, making them a viable option for those looking to save on cleanup time.

3. Layout and Design

Creating an efficient and customer-friendly layout is essential for the success of your container restaurant. Collaborate with a designer or architect to develop a floor plan that maximizes space efficiency and enhances the dining experience. Key considerations include:

  • Kitchen Layout: Design a functional and efficient workspace for your staff. Ensure there is adequate space for cooking, prep areas, and storage. The kitchen layout should promote a smooth workflow and comply with health and safety regulations.

  • Dining Area: Focus on creating a comfortable and inviting space for customers. Consider different seating arrangements, such as tables, booths, and bar seating, to accommodate various dining preferences.

  • Restrooms: Ensure restrooms are adequately sized and comply with local regulations. They should be easily accessible to customers without disrupting the dining area.

4. Custom Modifications

Shipping containers offer a blank canvas for customization, allowing you to create a unique and functional restaurant space. Some key modifications include:

Enhanced Insulation and Climate Control: Equip your container restaurant with high-quality insulation and state-of-the-art HVAC systems to maintain a comfortable dining environment throughout the year. This includes both heating for colder months and air conditioning for warmer seasons.

Professional-Grade Kitchens: Install commercial-grade kitchen equipment tailored to your menu’s needs. This includes custom stainless steel counters, high-efficiency hoods, walk-in coolers, and specialty cooking equipment like brick ovens or griddles. Ensure the kitchen layout maximizes efficiency and meets health and safety standards.

Plumbing and Electrical Installations: Fully equipped kitchens and restrooms require robust plumbing and electrical systems. These installations include water supply, drainage, electrical outlets, lighting, and kitchen appliances, ensuring seamless operation.


Interior Finishes and Non-Slip Flooring: Create an inviting atmosphere with high-quality interior finishes. Options include laminate or hardwood flooring, tiled walls, and carpet. For safety, particularly in kitchen and high-traffic areas, install non-slip flooring to prevent accidents and ensure a secure footing for staff and customers.

Advanced Lighting Solutions: Implement a combination of ambient, task, and accent lighting to enhance the dining experience and functionality of your restaurant. Pendant lights, recessed lighting, and LED strips can create a warm, inviting atmosphere, while focused task lighting ensures efficiency in the kitchen and bar areas.

Windows and Doors: Install large, floor-to-ceiling windows to flood your dining area with natural light, enhance visibility, and create an open, airy atmosphere. Customized entrances with sliding glass doors, roll-up garage-style doors, or bi-fold doors can create a seamless indoor-outdoor flow. Additionally, storefront doors with full glass panels can create an inviting entrance and showcase your interior design.

Concessions and Drive-Thru Windows: Install concessions windows for easy service in casual dining or food truck-style setups. Drive-thru windows can enhance service efficiency and cater to customers on the go, expanding your restaurant’s reach and convenience.

Rooftop and Outdoor Dining Areas: Utilize the roof space for a rooftop dining area or bar, complete with seating, shade structures, and lighting. Create additional outdoor seating with decks or patios, providing a versatile space for customers to enjoy meals in the open air.

Exterior Cladding and Branding: Enhance your restaurant’s curb appeal with exterior cladding options such as corten steel, reclaimed wood, or composite panels. Add custom signage and branding elements, including illuminated signs and painted logos, to attract attention and establish your brand identity.

Security Enhancements: Ensure your restaurant’s safety with reinforced doors and windows, security cameras, and alarm systems. Implement secure locking mechanisms and consider adding exterior lighting to enhance security after hours.

Benefits of Modular Restaurant Construction

Time Savings

By buying a custom container restaurant, it allows your general contractor to prepare the final site while the actual structure is being completed in our factory. This drastically cuts down on overall construction time compared to traditional builds. In turn, this means your business will be up, running, and making money quicker. While a container restaurant may not always be "cheaper" depending on the design, this time-savings may actual turn out to save you money due to less down time for your business and faster cash flow through the restaurant.

Energy Efficiency

In a busy restaurant, utility bills make up a large portion of your overhead costs. Any improvements in efficiency translate to considerable savings on a month-to-month basis. Shipping containers for restaurants can easily include high-efficiency appliances, solar panels, insulation and other green sustainable technologies. In addition, your choice of a modular unit is an investment in an emerging green building technology: the repurposing of building materials. Choosing to house your restaurant in a modular space keeps perfectly usable material out of landfills and helps encourage consumers to re-use materials in a creative and innovative manner.


Modular restaurant construction gives you free reign to design the best kitchen area and front-of-house for your team. Rather than forcing you to use a set floor plan, BMarko’s modular restaurant designs are flexible and modifiable in plenty of convenient ways. Shipping container restaurants are also easy to expand when you need to accommodate future growth. Simply stack a modular addition on top of your existing structure or add a couple on to the side for several hundred extra square feet. It’s an easy and cost-effective way to provide new customers and staff with a comfortable space while minimizing construction time on site.


Décor and interior design play a large role in how your restaurant is perceived, and the type of crowd it attracts. While BMarko’s modular construction process gives you plenty of options for creating comfortable, conventional spaces both inside and out, many clients find the industrial look of a repurposed shipping container to be one of its key selling points. Choose a modular restaurant to give your eatery the edge it needs in a fiercely competitive culinary landscape.

From giving your team the freedom to move to attracting a hip crowd to your restaurant’s unique look, modular construction is a great choice for your establishment!

Overcoming Common Restaurant Failures With Container Restaurants

Custom shipping containers are excellent choices for new coffee shops, food trucks, sandwich shops, seafood restaurants, and hip bars. A recent study conducted by Ohio State University revealed that 60 percent of restaurants fail in their first year of existence and 80 percent fail within five years. As reported by, Robert Irvine, celebrity chef and star of the hit show, “Restaurant Impossible,” lists the following as the top causes of restaurant failures:

  • Inexperience
  • Poorly located
  • Bad People Management
  • Lack of Accounting Skills
  • Spotty Customer Service
  • Sub-Par Food Quality & Execution

While Carrie Luxem, president and CEO of Restaurant HR Group, agrees with many of the things on Irvine’s list, she considers poor location and overspending to be two of the biggest reasons why restaurants fail. Luxem warns that some of the pitfalls of a bad location include poor visibility, insufficient parking and a lack of foot traffic. When it comes to overspending, Luxem says that some restaurateurs spend too much even before they open their doors on remodeling projects that aren’t always necessary.

Overcoming the reasons Irvine cited as being responsible for failure in the restaurant industry can be done with hands-on training and education. You can get experience by working in someone else’s restaurant before you strike out on your own and use it as a guide. For instance, you learn how to prepare food and execute the menu you’re going to offer. You can also learn about the level of service customers expect at the same time, which will help you train your employees to tend to your customers appropriately down the line. You can learn how to manage others by taking a class or consulting with a seasoned mentor. You can also pick the marketing and accounting skills you’ll need to succeed as a business owner by taking a class in a formal setting or online.

Conquering the real obstacles to success that Luxem discussed is also within your control. You can research the features and demographics in a few areas where you’d like to open your restaurant to see which market your establishment will be most likely to succeed in, for example. You can also avoid overspending by identifying what is critical to the success of your project and staying within your budget by not adding unnecessary items to your to-do list.

Sometimes, no matter how much research you do about the demographics and competition in the area and regardless of how careful you are to stick to your budget, your business concepts may still be literally and figuratively positioned to fail. Often, this is due to a change in the neighborhood, a “jinxed” location that once seemed perfect, or something else. You can avoid pitfalls like these, however, by sidestepping a traditional retail location such as a strip mall or shopping center and opening your restaurant as a portable pop-up eatery instead.

One of the biggest advantages that pop up restaurants like shipping container restaurants have over conventional brick-and-mortar commercial locations is that they feature the option of relocating your business if you picked the wrong retail space or the consumer market around your restaurant changes. Another benefit is that a mobile pop-up is normally less expensive to customize the architecture to your exact standards than it is to build a permanent structure.

Shipping Container, Modular & Pop-Up Restaurant Ideas

Shipping containers, once purely utilitarian, have found a new life in the world of innovative restaurant design. Their style and versatility have not only been embraced by industry leaders like Taco Bell, Subway, and Starbucks but also by independent restaurateurs looking to create unique and functional dining experiences. Here’s a deeper look into how these modular units are revolutionizing the food industry and some creative ideas to inspire your own shipping container restaurant.

Industry Leaders Setting the Trend

Taco Bell made waves in 2015 when it debuted its first shipping container store at an annual film and music festival in Austin, Texas. This pop-up restaurant showcased the flexibility and modern aesthetic of container construction, drawing significant attention and positive reviews.

starbucks logo

Starbucks followed suit in 2014, introducing drive-thru shipping container outlets in cities like Seattle, Chicago, Denver, Oregon, Kansas City, and Colorado. These outlets exemplify how shipping containers can be used to create efficient, compact, and environmentally friendly commercial spaces.

subway logo

Subway implemented one of the most creative pop-up restaurant concepts to date during the construction of the Freedom Tower in New York City. Workers on the towering 105-floor structure faced logistical challenges reaching ground level for meals. Subway’s innovative solution involved a portable restaurant housed in shipping containers that could be lifted to the workers’ floor, drastically saving time and improving convenience.

Independent Success Stories

Independent restaurant owners have also harnessed the practicality and flexibility of shipping containers:

Smoky Park Supper Club in Asheville, NC, opened by Matt Logan, Kristie Quinn, and chef Mark Rosenstein, is the largest shipping container restaurant in the United States. Using 19 shipping containers, this establishment was remarkably installed in just three days, demonstrating the efficiency and scalability of container construction.

Ska Brewing’s Container Restaurant in Durango, CO, serves as an excellent example of vertical utilization. The restaurant uses two containers stacked atop each other, with the lower level dedicated to food preparation and the upper level serving as an outdoor patio. This setup not only maximizes space but also offers guests an elevated view of the brewery’s property, enhancing their dining experience.

Shipping Container, Modular & Pop-Up Restaurant Ideas

Shipping containers are ideal for both large-scale operations and smaller, more intimate setups. Here are some innovative ideas for pop-up and modular restaurants:

Portable Coffee Shop: Create a compact, mobile coffee shop that can be transported to various locations. Perfect for events, festivals, or urban areas with high foot traffic.

Shipping Container Café: A cozy café made from one or two containers, offering a unique and inviting space for patrons. Customize the interior with stylish décor and comfortable seating.

Modular Bar: Develop a trendy bar using modular containers. Include features like a rooftop patio or an open-air seating area to attract a hip crowd.

Pop-Up Beer Garden: Combine several containers to form a spacious beer garden. Include outdoor seating, shade structures, and even a stage for live performances.

Drive-Thru Restaurant: Capitalize on the compact nature of containers to design an efficient drive-thru restaurant. Ideal for fast food concepts where quick service is essential.

Gourmet Sandwich Shop: Transform a shipping container into a chic sandwich shop with an open kitchen design, allowing customers to watch their food being prepared.

Dessert Bar: Develop a sweet treat destination with a dessert bar specializing in ice cream, pastries, or specialty coffees, housed in a vibrant and colorful container.

Shipping container restaurants offer an unparalleled combination of durability, flexibility, and aesthetic appeal. Whether you’re inspired by industry giants or independent success stories, the possibilities are vast and varied. Embrace the trend and create a unique dining experience that stands out in today’s competitive market. At BMarko Structures, we can help you bring your vision to life with customized, innovative, and sustainable container solutions.

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Cargo Container Restaurant FAQs

The costs of building a shipping container restaurant can vary widely depending on several factors:

  • Size and Number of Containers: The primary cost driver is the number of containers used and their sizes. A basic setup with one or two containers will cost less than a complex design with multiple containers.

  • Condition of Containers: New containers cost more but require less refurbishment. Used containers are cheaper but may need repairs for rust, dents, and structural integrity. At BMarko Structures we only build with “one-trip” or new containers as it guarantees the highest quality build for you. 

  • Customizations: Costs increase with the level of customization. Modifications such as cutting openings for windows and doors, adding insulation, installing plumbing and electrical systems, and interior finishes can add to the budget.

  • Location: The cost of land, permits, and local construction costs can vary significantly by location. Urban areas typically have higher costs than rural locations.

  • Design and Professional Fees: Hiring architects, engineers, and contractors will add to the overall cost. Their fees vary based on their experience and the complexity of the project.

  • Transportation and Installation: The cost of transporting the containers to your site and the expenses associated with installation, including foundation work and utility connections, must be considered.

In general, shipping container restaurants tend to be more cost-effective than traditional brick-and-mortar establishments due to shorter construction times and the use of recycled materials, which can reduce overall costs by 20-30%.

Yes, one of the significant advantages of shipping container restaurants is their mobility. Shipping containers are designed to be easily transported, making it feasible to relocate your restaurant if needed. Here’s how it works:

  • Design for Mobility: Shipping container restaurants can be designed with mobility in mind, ensuring that they can be disassembled and reassembled with relative ease. This includes modular designs that can be stacked or joined together in various configurations.

  • Transportation: Containers can be transported using standard shipping methods, including trucks, trains, and ships. They can be loaded onto flatbed trailers for road transport, making it easy to move them to new locations.

  • Permits and Logistics: While moving a shipping container restaurant is more straightforward than relocating a traditional building, it still requires careful planning. You’ll need to secure the necessary permits for both the removal and the new installation site. Additionally, logistical considerations, such as the route and any potential obstacles, need to be planned.

  • Reassembly: Once at the new location, the container restaurant can be reassembled quickly. This involves connecting utilities, ensuring structural stability, and setting up the interior according to the original design.

Overall, the ability to move a shipping container restaurant provides a unique flexibility that traditional restaurants cannot offer. This is especially beneficial for adapting to changing market conditions, seasonal business opportunities, or relocating to areas with higher customer traffic.

The construction time for a shipping container restaurant is typically much shorter than traditional building methods. Here’s a general timeline:

  • Design Phase (1-2 Months): This includes planning, obtaining permits, and finalizing the design. During this phase, you’ll work with architects and designers to create a detailed plan and 3D models of your restaurant.

  • Container Modification (1-3 Months): The containers are modified off-site. This process involves cutting openings, reinforcing structures, installing insulation, plumbing, and electrical systems, and performing any custom modifications.

  • Site Preparation (1-2 Months): While the containers are being modified, the site is prepared. This includes laying the foundation, installing utility connections, and ensuring the site is ready for the containers.

  • Transportation and Assembly (1-2 Weeks): Once the containers are ready, they are transported to the site and assembled. This involves placing the containers, securing them, and connecting all utilities.

  • Final Inspections and Furnishing (1 Month): After assembly, the interior is finished with flooring, fixtures, and furniture. Final inspections are conducted to ensure compliance with local regulations.

Overall, the entire process can take as little as 3-6 months, significantly less than the 12-18 months typically required for traditional construction.

Yes, shipping container restaurants are eco-friendly for several reasons:

  • Recycling: Using repurposed shipping containers reduces the demand for new construction materials, saving energy and resources. Each recycled container saves approximately 3,500 kg of steel and avoids the use of traditional building materials like bricks and cement.

  • Waste Reduction: By reusing containers, fewer materials end up in landfills. This promotes a circular economy where materials are continuously reused and repurposed.

  • Energy Efficiency: Containers can be equipped with energy-efficient appliances, insulation, and sustainable technologies like solar panels. High-efficiency HVAC systems and LED lighting can further reduce energy consumption.

  • Sustainable Materials: Interiors can be finished with eco-friendly materials such as reclaimed wood, low-VOC paints, and recycled metal.

  • Reduced Carbon Footprint: The shorter construction time and reduced need for heavy machinery during the building process contribute to a lower carbon footprint.

Absolutely, the versatility of shipping containers allows for extensive customization to meet your specific needs and preferences. Some customization options include:

  • Structural Modifications: Containers can be modified to create larger open spaces by removing walls, adding floors, or stacking containers.

  • Windows and Doors: Add large windows for natural light, custom doors for easy access, and even sliding or roll-up doors for unique entrances.

  • Insulation and Climate Control: High-quality insulation, HVAC systems, and climate control solutions can be installed to ensure comfort in all weather conditions.

  • Interior Finishes: Customize the interior with flooring options, wall coverings, lighting, and furniture that match your brand and aesthetic.

  • Plumbing and Electrical Systems: Fully equipped kitchens, restrooms, and dining areas with modern plumbing and electrical systems.

  • Exterior Design: Enhance the exterior with branding, signage, and decorative elements to attract customers and create a distinctive look.

  • Rooftop and Outdoor Spaces: Utilize the roof for additional seating, a bar area, or even a garden.

Permits for a shipping container restaurant vary by location but generally include:

  • Building Permit: Required for any structural modifications and new construction. This ensures the structure meets local building codes and safety standards.

  • Health Permit: Necessary for operating a food establishment. This includes inspections of the kitchen, food storage, and sanitation practices.

  • Zoning Permit: Ensures the restaurant is located in an area zoned for commercial use. Zoning regulations can affect where you can place your restaurant and any specific requirements for that area.

  • Electrical and Plumbing Permits: Required for installing electrical systems and plumbing. These permits ensure that all installations are up to code and safely installed.

  • Fire Safety Permit: Necessary to ensure that the restaurant meets fire safety standards, including fire exits, extinguishers, and sprinkler systems.

  • Environmental Permits: Depending on your location, you may need permits related to waste disposal, water usage, and environmental impact.

It’s essential to check with your local government offices to understand the specific permits required in your area.

Maintaining a shipping container restaurant involves regular upkeep to ensure it remains in good condition and operates efficiently. Key maintenance tasks include:

  • Rust Prevention: Regularly inspect for rust, especially in areas exposed to moisture. Treat any rust spots promptly and apply protective coatings to prevent further corrosion.

  • Insulation and Sealing: Check the insulation and weather seals to ensure they are intact. Proper insulation is crucial for energy efficiency and maintaining a comfortable interior environment.

  • HVAC System Maintenance: Regularly service heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems to ensure they operate efficiently and provide a comfortable environment for customers.

  • Plumbing and Electrical Systems: Regular inspections and maintenance of plumbing and electrical systems to prevent leaks, blockages, and electrical faults.

  • Structural Integrity: Inspect the structural integrity of the containers periodically. Ensure there are no structural weaknesses or damage that could compromise safety.

  • Cleaning and Sanitation: Maintain high standards of cleanliness and sanitation, particularly in kitchen and dining areas. Regular deep cleaning and adherence to health regulations are essential.

  • Exterior Maintenance: Keep the exterior clean and well-maintained. This includes cleaning windows, doors, and any exterior signage or branding elements.

By performing regular maintenance, you can ensure the longevity of your shipping container restaurant and provide a safe and pleasant dining experience for your customers.

Why BMarko Structures?

At BMarko Structures, we specialize in transforming repurposed shipping containers into custom modular restaurants. Our approach is 100% tailored to your specific needs, but we don’t design containers ourselves. Instead, we collaborate with your designs or architects to bring your vision to life. Our expert team can help streamline and optimize your design to make it more container-friendly.

  • Preconstruction Process: Once we have your designs, we manage the preconstruction process, including sourcing containers, and preparing detailed construction plans.

  • Customization and Fabrication: Our team of skilled craftsmen and engineers will handle all aspects of customization and fabrication, ensuring that every detail meets your specifications and complies with local regulations.

  • Installation: After customizing your containers, we arrange secure and timely delivery to your site, coordinating with reliable shipping companies to ensure smooth transport. We work closely with the general contractor (GC) you hire for installation, providing detailed plans and guidance to ensure the containers are assembled correctly and efficiently.

  • Support: Our commitment extends beyond installation. We offer comprehensive support to ensure your restaurant operates smoothly. Our experts are available to address any technical issues, from structural concerns to HVAC troubleshooting. 

With BMarko Structures, you get a partner who understands the unique challenges and opportunities of shipping container construction. We are committed to delivering high-quality, innovative, and sustainable solutions that help you stand out in the competitive restaurant industry.

Start Building Your Dream Restaurant Container Today

Designing a modular restaurant with shipping containers is a creative and efficient way to establish a unique dining venue. By carefully considering your concept, selecting the right containers, and collaborating with experts in container modification, you can create a restaurant that is not only functional and attractive but also eco-friendly and cost-effective.

BMarko Structures is here to support you every step of the way, from initial design to final installation, ensuring your vision becomes a reality. Contact our team to get started. 

icey girl container restaurant

Client Testimonials

Kesler Contracting
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“When we needed a design and build team BMarko was the group that fit perfect for what we needed. BMarko made this happen. Throughout the project we found BMarko’s design and build team to be responsive on quality, design and able to deliver the finished product on time. BMarko was great to work with from start to finish.”
Steve Rogers
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“Antony’s knowledge and design helped immensely in our initial structure. We have ordered 6 units, each is exactly to spec and is impeccably made. Of others we have looked at Bmarko is the best quality and the fastest delivery.”
Keith Reiser
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“Thanks for another successful project. Once again, great quality and on time delivery.”
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