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How to Build a Shipping Container Cafe

  • Conversion
  • Design
13th January 2023

If you’re considering opening a café, a shipping container conversion is an affordable way to have your café up and running quickly. Thanks to its versatility, a shipping container conversion is a fantastic option for a catering unit and, with a few modifications, you can add all the features you’d expect to see in a regular bricks and mortar building.

A container is strong, robust, and much more cost effective than a brick-built café, and has the added benefit of being able to be transported to different locations. Transportability is ideal for pop-ups, or promotional events, as you can safely move your converted container to the new site with minimal disruption.

Containers are not only robust, but also offer loads of flexibility in terms of design. Whether its side hatches, personnel doors, or floor to ceiling windows, you have complete design freedom when it comes to creating your perfect container café.

What type of container is best for a Cafe or Restaurant?

You have many options when it comes to choosing the most suitable container for your specific needs. The first thing to consider is what size would be most suitable for your café. If you plan to serve food from your café, for example, you will need to ensure there is enough floor space for catering equipment as opposed to if you’re just serving hot drinks.

Standard containers are available in the following sizes:

  • 10ft standard height 
  • 20ft standard height and high cube
  • 40ft standard height and high cube

Many people opt for a 20ft container for a café conversion as they are large enough to fit all the equipment needed but small enough to fit at most sites. 

Next, you will need to think about the functionality of the container and what specific design aspects need to be included to fulfil your requirements. It’s important to plan the layout of the container to incorporate an area where customers can order from and be served by staff. This can be created using a side hatch built into the long side of the container. The opening of the serving hatch will also act as a canopy, offering shelter to customers.

Extraction may also be a consideration, particularly if cooking. Along with sinks and counter layout. 

Hygiene is another important aspect when designing a container café. Shipping containers are constructed with corrugated sides, but a container line out will create a smooth wall finish. We’d recommend going for a melamine lining as this can be wiped down and disinfected. Alternatively, you could go for cladding or wood lining for a rustic appearance.

You’ll also need to think about fitting electrical points inside the container café. It’s very likely that you will need multiple sockets for various pieces of catering equipment to provide the service you want to your customers. An electrical fit out will ensure you have the right number of sockets to make your café functional and also provide lighting so you don’t have to work in the dark!

Finally colour and branding can be completed to your heart’s desire. 

Building a Container Café with S Jones Containers

The conversions team at S Jones have worked with a number of clients to design and build container cafés. From understanding and building your technical requirements for the container café conversion project, through to CAD concepts, proofing, and manufacture, we can give complete visibility on lead times and control over your bespoke modifications as we manage the whole process in-house.

For example, London architects Bar Gazetas got in touch with our team as they wanted to create a pop-up café to free up space at Battersea Studios. We stacked two converted containers on top of each other and then added a mezzanine platform. We then added an exterior staircase to provide access to the first floor. Lighting, hatches, and personnel doors were added, electricity was then fitted, and lastly the appropriate food preparation surfaces and equipment.

An independent London-based brand agency approached S Jones to create a promotional unit for their customer, Café Direct. The brief was to design and build a promotional unit for their coffee shops, showcasing their company ethos around recycling and the environment. The customer was looking for a modern, industrial look for the café but it also needed to include as many upcycled elements into the design as possible. With this in mind, our team built an accessible 20ft converted container complete with electricity and lighting (made from ceramic coffee cups), water, and professionally painted with the company branding.

If you’re looking for a bespoke shipping container cafe, please speak to our experienced conversions team who can help design a container conversion to suit your individual needs. 

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