Takeout Container: Why Shipping Containers Are Spicing Up the Food Industry

storage container restaurant

With over 660,000 restaurants in the U.S., there is a consumer interest in finding alternative dining experiences. Commercial shipping containers can help lure those customers to your door, offering versatility, mobility, efficiency, and even safety — such as during the coronavirus pandemic — without compromising your brand concept or your design.

Is your restaurant experiencing a busy season? You can surround tables and chairs by a takeout shipping container in your restaurant parking lot to accomdate the heavy traffic. For restaurants at limited capacity or closed to in-house dining due to COVID-19, are you trying to find another way to serve meals? Setting up a “to-go” center curbside in a shipping container outside your establishment for takeout orders is an easy solution to continue business despite changing demands.

Want to learn more about the hype of restaurants offering takeout service from shipping containers? Continue reading below to find out.

The Pop-Up Concept

Containers are extremely helpful for staging pop-ups, a handy way to give your market a literal and figurative taste of what you’re all about outside of a traditional restaurant setting. “It’s a fun, cool way to do seating,” says Richard F. Weil, CEO of National Restaurant Consultants of Denver, Colorado. Whether you’re subleasing a pop-up space for a few months during a seasonal market or just holding a one-day educational food experience off-site, containers can deliver your concept just about anywhere.

Two people eating food purchased from a shipping container restaurant

Businesses can easily get their pots, pans, and secret ingredients to and from their kitchens into their temporary restaurant pop-up site quickly and efficiently. Weil suggests a semi-permanent installation that combines a seating container with an aging food truck, one whose kitchen is still in good operating order but whose traveling days are ending. “That setup gives you something a little more advanced than a food truck, but not as much work as a brick-and-mortar restaurant,” he says.

Survive the malls

Quick service restaurant (QSR) operators might consider how containers can help them with the next challenge to their segment of the food industry. (The National Restaurant Association defines QSR as locations where orders are placed at a cash register or kiosk and payment is made before dining begins.)

Shopping malls are struggling. That matters, because it also means that the food court is in jeopardy. A Credit Suisse report predicts that 20-25% of malls will close in the five-year period ending in 2022. A typical food court has at least a half-dozen concepts. In larger malls, that number can climb to 30 or more.

A food truck parked on a street

When malls close, they take a lot of low-maintenance QSR real estate with them. Containers can help a relocating QSR entrepreneur manage the transition out of a mall environment and into a new space. Making the move from a mall setting to a stand-alone or strip-mall space will introduce new requirements you likely didn’t tangle with in the food court. In most malls, furniture, from customer tables and chairs to free-standing trash cans, are typically provided by the landlord. In your new digs, you might need to purchase seating and garbage containers yourself.

Prioritize Food preparation

Customers are more engaged with their meals than ever before, as countless Instagram foodies snapping their plates can attest. But they’re also more interested in the practices and processes that go into that plate than ever before.

“Millennial customers care more about ingredient sourcing, allergens, and nutrition than they did even a couple of years ago,” according to Astute Solutions, which provides a range of services to the restaurant industry.

Line of people standing at a shipping container restaurant

A container can provide a tangible and visible way to keep ingredients, processes, or equipment from cross-contaminating. This can be especially useful for shelf-stable ingredients you’ll use quickly and which require no long-term storage. For example, if your concept includes fair-trade or GMO-free ingredients, setting them apart or serving them strictly out of a specialty container can help put the spotlight on your efforts.

Call the Container experts

The growing awareness of containers as both practical accessories and distinctive visuals means that specialists are cropping up specifically to help businesses understand their options. Work with an architect who focuses on container-enhanced designs, or challenge your professional restaurant consultant to look beyond your brick-and-mortar footprint and present new ideas.

Dean Small, founder and CEO of Synergy Restaurant Consultants, points out the importance of overall visual appeal. “You need great street visibility. Your container’s facade has to stand out for people to give it a try,” he says. “I’ve seen concepts that have a very international feel, that are full-blown bars, that actually look beautiful.”

However you choose to build out your restaurant concept with a container, remember to stay focused on the basics. Good food and good staff are the most important aspects of a successful restaurant. The fixed walls of a container can help you refine your ideas and experiment without the need for a costly buildout.

Don’t let space challenges or building capacity guidelines hold you back from creating amazing meals for your customers.

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