Shipping Container Food Truck: Who’s the Winner in the Food Truck vs. Shipping Container Stand-off

Today, there are many options to explore while designing your concept kitchen, and one of them is choosing between a shipping container or a food truck. 

While both offer a practical and more flexible setup than brick-and-mortar kitchens, new business owners and those willing to share their food with the world are likely to struggle while picking the proper setup. 

However, time and time again, shipping containers prove to excel because there are more size options, and you can easily join several ones to create your dream kitchen. In this article, we’ll explain why shipping containers offer the best commercial kitchen solutions, so keep on reading. 

Shipping Containers vs. Food Trucks: Which One is Better?

Both shipping containers and food trucks offer a modern concept kitchen design. But as an aspiring chef, you might be confused about picking the right one. 

Food Truck

customers eating from a quality food truck

Food trucks have always been around, and they’re quite popular during festivals and events. As a matter of fact, the food truck craze goes back to the 17th century, when chefs would cook food and sell it from small carts. 

The idea is to take a trailer and change it into a mobile kitchen after installing all the necessary kitchen appliances that would help you start your business. Still, it will always remain a trailer.

Regular trailer maintenance is needed to keep your kitchen functional. As a result, your business might be at risk because this maintenance can affect working hours. 

Typically speaking, sustainable food trucks are usually 16 feet long and use less energy to run than traditional restaurants as they use biodegradable materials to run and depend on local produce. They range in size from 10 to 26 feet long, depending on your need, and they come with the needed plumbing fixtures and HVAC setup.

A food trailer can weigh anything between 1,500 and 16,000 pounds with all the equipment installed. Therefore, its capacity depends on its length and height. Some models have higher roofs, so you can stack appliances vertically and use the limited space more efficiently. 

Pros

Sustainable food trucks offer several advantages in the food business. 

  • You can easily move a trailer from one location to another across the country, so it’s suitable for temporary setups. 
  • It can also double as a vehicle to buy your supplies or deliver food at different locations because it’s a kitchen and vehicle in one. 
  • It’s a single unit, so you don’t need a separate transport vehicle. 
  • The compact size means less space to clean. It’s also straightforward to drive and can be easily parked at different locations.

Cons

You need to consider a few disadvantages before investing in sustainable food trucks. 

  • A food truck has a higher upfront cost compared to other modern kitchen setups. As a result, the starting price of a food truck can be as high as $100,000. 
  • The limited size means that your menu and staff will be limited. 

Shipping Container

shipping containers offer new wave in mobility and sustainability

A container is a sturdy structure that can be used for transport and storage and is a good choice to consider if you want to build your concept kitchen. Although some people buy new containers and use them to create their customized restaurant setup, in most cases, buyers consider buying used ones and adjust them accordingly.

Unlike a food truck, the container has no wheels, but it can still be transported from one location to another. All you have to do is to pick the right vehicle, tow your container to the desired location, and offer good food to your customers.

Purpose-built or used and customized shipping containers will make great concept kitchens after installing adequate insulation, HVAC system, plumbing, and kitchen appliances. There are different types of kitchens that work for every budget and experience in the food business. 

Shipping containers range in size from 8 feet up to 40 or 45 feet long. The overall capacity and tolerance depend on the status of the container and the specifications of the manufacturer. 

shipping container kitchen windows design
Source : Youtube

When empty, a container can weigh between 3900 and 9000 pounds, but with the kitchen appliances installed, the weight increases to more than 60,000 because these structures are highly durable and well-built. 

Pros

A shipping container offers various benefits when used as a commercial kitchen in the food business.  

  • Without proper insulation, the temperature can quickly and significantly rise inside the container. 
  • Most containers are built for storage and transport purposes, so they’re coated with special coatings to be more resistant. Unfortunately, using high temperatures for cooking means that you might be inhaling the harmful fumes from these chemicals. 

Shipping Containers vs. Sustainable Food Trucks Features Face to Face

In order to determine which option is better for you, you need to compare the features of both setups. 

Sizes

If you’re looking for a compact setup that you can easily fit in a small spot, then sustainable food trucks will be a good option. Shipping containers come in more size options and shapes. As a result, they’ll work for you if you’re still not sure about the adequate size that would work for your kitchen. 

Versatility

Although sustainable food trucks are compact and practical, container kitchens are more versatile. You can pick several ones and connect them or conjoin them to create a full restaurant concept and serve your latest creations. 

Portability

When it comes to portability, sustainable food trucks win. Of course, you can simply drive your truck to a new location, but with a shipping container, you’ll have to find a towing solution like a flatbed or towing truck. 

Concept

container equipment using biodegradable materials
Source: Youtube

A container can be used for various setups. A concession kitchen serves pre-prepared food and drinks, with no previous cooking on site. Drink kitchens offer different types of cold and hot beverages and can also offer some snacks. Both options are accessible if you’re looking for a budget-friendly option to start your concept kitchen. 

With some extra cooking appliances, you can use your custom shipping container kitchen to reheat some pre-cooked food. You can also offer a full menu and cook food from scratch. However, a food truck is usually limited to offering snacks or a limited menu.

Maintenance

quality equipment to operate a steel container design
Source: Youtube

Maintenance time is doubled when you’re dealing with a truck. In this kitchen container, you have to think about the appliances’ maintenance and the vehicles. During these hours, your restaurant will probably be out of business. 

However, maintaining the kitchen appliances is the only factor to worry about when you have a shipping container kitchen. Moreover, due to the larger space, you might still be able to offer food to customers. 

What is the Cost of Shipping Containers vs. Food Trucks?

lorch kitchen design with mobility and sustainability in mind
Source : Youtube

In order to decide on the cost of running a kitchen in a food truck or a shipping container, you need to think about the initial upfront costs and the maintenance and running costs. 

Upfront Costs

Food trucks cost more than shipping containers when they’re first bought. When empty, you can expect to pay about $50,000 to $70,000 for a 16-foot truck, and the cost can go up to $100,000 once it has been fully equipped to function as a mobile kitchen. 

A 40-foot shipping container costs around $8000 when it’s new and as little as $3000 when it’s used. A 20-foot container can cost around $5,000 when bought new. In both cases, you’ll have to pay rent to secure a spot for your restaurant. Installing kitchen appliances involves paying virtually the same cost if both structures are of the same size.

Running Costs

steel container kitchen project to save money
Source :hsdcontainerhouse.com

Food trucks cost more to run and maintain than shipping container kitchens. 

  • They need to be maintained as vehicles, adding to the overall maintenance cost of your kitchen. 
  • The operation will stop when your vehicle isn’t working, which is another reason why food trucks cost more to run. 
  • Over time, shipping containers offer more value for your cash as they offer more space. 
  • Shipping containers are more resistant to weather conditions, so they require less frequent maintenance. 

What Are the Stand Out Features of Shipping Containers vs. Food Trucks?

It’s clear that shipping containers offer more versatility and value than food trucks when you’re starting your restaurant business. Here are some of the features that make them stand out. 

Size Options

inspired design of food trucks with windows
Source : primedesignfoodtrucks.com

With more size options, you can customize your kitchen style based on your budget and needs. Moreover, there’s always room for growth as you conjoin several containers together. 

Better Build

They are built to withstand the most extreme conditions. They also offer more weight limits. 

Less Maintenance

You don’t have to worry about maintaining a vehicle when you opt for a container. And at the same time, you can still move your kitchen by towing it to a new location. 

More Value for Money

Because a container is more affordable, it offers more value for money. It’s a more budget-friendly option while offering your decent space, and you don’t have to endure additional commissary for storage or preparation. 

Can You Convert a Shipping Container into a Mobile Food Truck?

converted shipping container kitchens with mobility and ultimate driving force
Source : pinterest.jp

Made of durable steel, shipping containers can successfully be transformed into mobile food trucks with a few adjustments, creating what we know as walking boxes food trailers. There are lots of ideas that you can go for, but you need to hire a specialized company to install the wheels. 

Even after installing wheels, your shipping container won’t be fully transformed into a food truck because it lacks an engine. However, it can be easily towed. 

Conclusion

Both sustainable food trucks and shipping containers offer a new kitchen concept if you want to start your restaurant business journey.

Use a shipping container if:

  • You’re on a tight budget.
  • You need more space. 
  • You’re ready to consider several kitchen setups, from simple to full-menu restaurants. 

Use a food trailer if:

  • You want a kitchen that can easily be on the go. 
  • You’re interested in takeout or simple kitchen concepts. 
  • You have fewer staff members, and you want to spend less time cleaning. 

Think about what your dream restaurant looks like and choose the kitchen setup that works for you. 

Ryan Stetson

Ryan Stetson

Currently own two 20' and 40' containers converted into an office/workshop. Having worked in the shipping industry for 6 years, my goal is to share my personal experiences as well as connect potential container buyers with suppliers around the US.

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