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Shipping Container Restaurants: How to Start a Mini-Food Business

Restaurants are a dime a dozen. There are millions of them all over the world. And in the ever-evolving landscape of the food industry, businesses must be innovative to stay relevant and stand out.

One fascinating trend that has taken the culinary world by storm is the rise of shipping container cafes, bars and restaurants. Shipping containers have emerged as a striking and unique alternative to the conventional food truck, captivating foodies, restaurant owners and entrepreneurs alike with their charm and practicality. The appeal of container restaurants lies in their incredible flexibility, providing aspiring restaurateurs looking to break into the food business with lower overhead costs and an eco-friendly approach. Unlocking the true potential of converting shipping containers extends beyond permanent establishments—it’s also the ideal solution for temporary or seasonal businesses. 

SEA Containers is your go-to for transforming shipping containers into cafes or restaurants. With a range of sizes and types to choose from, these versatile containers can be thoughtfully designed to suit your culinary vision. If you’ve been dreaming of bringing your gastronomic creations to the world, forget the tired food truck trend; step aboard the shipping container restaurant revolution. Let’s look at how shipping containers can serve as a pathway to culinary success.

Building your dream food business: How to choose the perfect shipping container

You’ll find a vast range of sizes and types of containers available. Select a shipping container that suits your purpose and sets the stage for a thriving food business.

First, assess your menu and kitchen requirements to determine the ideal dimensions. While larger shipping containers offer more interior space, they can also mean higher costs and additional logistical challenges. Next, what’s the perfect location? Are you aiming for a bustling urban spot or a cosy countryside retreat? Where you’ll be located will impact foot traffic as well as the restaurant’s design and overall aesthetic.

Customisation is key to creating standout shipping container cafes and bars. Ensure your container can be easily modified into a welcoming, functional space that reflects your brand. Consider features like windows allowing ample natural light, as well as ventilation and insulation, to create a comfortable environment for customers and staff.

Now, let’s talk about the budget. Finding a suitable shipping container at the right price is undoubtedly essential for any budding entrepreneur. Explore both new and used shipping containers, weighing the pros and cons of each. Used shipping containers can offer cost savings but may require more maintenance, while new containers provide a clean slate for customisation.

SEA Containers has a wide range of high-quality new and used shipping containers for converting into shipping container restaurants. Our experienced team will help you find a suitable container equipped with the modifications you need to achieve your goals.

Designing and outfitting your shipping container restaurant

Thinking outside the box is key when creating a shipping container restaurant, bar, or cafe that leaves a lasting impression. Embrace the unique charm of containers and let your creativity soar to design a standout culinary haven that stands out from the crowd.

Thoughtful planning ensures that every square foot of your container is optimised to create an inviting and seamless dining experience for your customers. Consider the placement of the kitchen area to facilitate efficient food preparation and service while also leaving ample room for the seating arrangement to offer comfort and spaciousness.

Consider creating a memorable brand identity using innovative and sustainable materials for your decor and furnishings, such as upcycled and repurposed items that add character. Embrace the rustic charm of exposed container walls, or use reclaimed wood to craft eye-catching furniture. If your location permits, a roof-top garden can provide fresh herbs and greens, contributing to a farm-to-table concept that resonates with eco-conscious diners.

Thoughtfully choose lighting fixtures, colours and music that align with your brand and menu. Comfortable seating, communal tables, cosy nooks, and a warm ambience can make dining an unforgettable experience.

Outfit your shipping container with the essential tools of the trade. High-quality kitchen equipment, such as commercial-grade stoves, ovens, refrigerators, and prep stations, is fundamental for efficient food preparation. Don’t forget to factor in storage solutions to keep ingredients organised and readily accessible.

Legal and practical considerations

Launching a shipping container restaurant, cafe, or bar is an exciting venture, but it comes with legal and practical considerations that require careful attention.

Permits and licenses

Before you do anything, organise the necessary permits and licenses to operate a food business in New Zealand. This includes registering your business with the Companies Office, obtaining a food license from the local council or MPI, and adhering to health and safety regulations.

Locations and zoning

Choose a suitable location for your shipping container restaurant, bar or cafe and ensure it complies with local zoning laws and building codes. Some areas may restrict food businesses, so verify that your chosen spot is permitted for your intended use.


Create a detailed business plan that outlines your idea, target market, revenue projections and anticipated expenses. This plan will be invaluable when approaching investors, banks, or other funding sources.

Hiring staff

Start recruiting a skilled and passionate team as your restaurant, bar, or cafe takes shape. Focus on hiring individuals who align with your vision and possess the necessary expertise to deliver an exceptional dining experience.

Logistics management

Efficient logistics are critical for smooth operation. Plan your supply chain carefully, ensuring a steady flow of ingredients and resources to avoid any service disruptions.

Building a customer base

Use online and offline marketing strategies to attract new customers to your shipping container restaurant. Leverage social media platforms to showcase your innovative idea and offer promotions to attract new diners.

Customer experience

Prioritise customer satisfaction by providing outstanding service, delectable dishes, and a welcoming atmosphere. Encourage feedback and respond to reviews, as positive word-of-mouth can significantly impact your cafe or restaurant’s reputation.

Sustainability and ethics

Highlight any eco-friendly initiatives, local sourcing of ingredients, and responsible waste management to appeal to conscious consumers. Stay adaptable and open to evolving trends and customer preferences. Regularly update your menu and consider hosting a variety of special events to keep patrons excited about returning to your cafe or restaurant.

Launch your dream shipping container restaurant with SEA Containers

With careful planning and a focus on long-term success, shipping containers are ideal for creating restaurants, cafes, and bars, bringing a perfect blend of creativity, sustainability and culinary magic. If you have a passion for food and a vision for an extraordinary dining concept, consider embarking on the shipping container restaurant journey. Contact the friendly team at SEA Containers to discuss our range of quality new or second hand shipping containers.