When summer heats up, customers crave cold, light meals that are loaded with flavor. Adding cold dinners to your menu is a great way to cater to the summer crowd, but with so many options to choose from, you may not know where to start.

Here are 13 cold dinner ideas for your restaurant.

cold dinners

1. Vegetarian Quinoa Salad

Looking for a meatless dish to add to your menu? Vegetarian quinoa salad will appeal to a wide variety of customers and give your menu an upscale feel. The great thing about this cold dish is that it’s so versatile. It can be served with beans, vegetables and/or nuts. Use whatever produce is in season to make it fresh, and use locally sourced ingredients for a farm-to-table feel.

Add a house-made dressing to tie the dish together.

2. Orzo Chicken Salad

When it comes to cold meals, pasta salads are always a crowd favorite. Pair orzo with sliced chicken breast, tomato, cucumber, feta, green onions and fresh herbs for a fresh and delicious entrée or side dish.

Like the quinoa salad above, orzo salad can easily be customized to match your restaurant’s theme and cuisine type.

3. Vegetable Noodle Salad

Cold dishes don’t have to be complicated. Use vegetable noodles as your base and build from there. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. Beet or cucumber noodles can add interesting flavors and color to your dishes. 

Load the salad with vegetables, lean protein and a tangy dressing to tie everything together.

4. Salad Niçoise

A classic cold food recipe that’s elegant and well-rounded. Traditional salad niçoise features fresh greens, hard-boiled egg, tomato, potato, tuna, olives and green beans.

Add your own dressing (mustard-based dressings are ideal for this dish), fresh herbs and other toppings. Picked radishes or avocado can give this dish a fresh, modern spin.

Feel free to scale the dish up or down. It’s a hearty meal that will leave customers satisfied.

cold meals

5. Spicy Corn and Tomato Salad

Looking for cold foods with a kick? Spicy corn and tomato salad fits the bill. Use fresh grilled corn and heirloom tomatoes. Top it with herbed goat cheese, salsa verde and breadcrumbs. Top it off with a few slices of fresh lime.

This salad will make a great side dish or appetizer.

6. Gazpacho

If you’re looking for fresh cold food ideas, gazpacho is a great option. It’s a simple, light dish that’s versatile and requires nothing more than fresh ingredients and a food processor or blender.

Classic gazpacho consists of tomatoes, pepper, cucumber, garlic, onion and fresh herbs. Top it with sliced cherry tomatoes, onion and herb.

Gazpacho is a feast for the eyes and will look great on any dining table.

7. Buddha Bowl

Cold entrees don’t get more versatile than the buddha bowl. These grain-based bowls can be combined with virtually any ingredient – go with your freshest options. Add color with pomegranate seeds and freshly sliced orange, or top with hardboiled egg and avocado for a heartier dish.

Another option is to allow customers to build their own buddha bowls. They're so quick and easy to put together, and allowing for a customized option can draw more customers in.

8. Collard Wraps

There are many cold recipes for wraps. Why not change things up by using collard greens instead of traditional wraps?

Fill your wraps with shredded vegetables, like carrots or cucumbers, and a special sauce on the side. Avocado, egg and chicken are other options for fillings.

9. Panzanella

Looking for crowd-pleasing cold supper ideas? Panzanella fits the bill. What’s not to like about this salad? It has bread, fresh herbs and produce, and a simple vinaigrette. Try adding unique ingredients, like pickled red onions or grilled corn.

Like other salads, panzanella can be customized based on the season or the theme of your restaurant.

10. Cold Broccoli Salad

If you’re looking for vegetarian cold dinners or healthy sides, broccoli salad is a good choice. Broccoli is such a versatile vegetable, so it can easily be combined with other ingredients you already have in stock. If your menu allows, you can have this dish change with the season or even every week or two.

Go with a creamy dressing for this type of dish. Almonds, pecans or walnuts are a great addition, but broccoli also pairs well with red bell pepper, onion or even fruits, like oranges.

cold dishes

11. Avocado Toast

One of the most popular cold meals for hot days right now is avocado toast. While avocado is a relatively expensive ingredient, you’ll find that guests are generally willing to pay a higher price for this type of dish.

It’s a simple dish to make. Simply top fresh toast with smashed avocado. Feel free to add toppings, like everything bagel seasoning, tomatoes, cold hard boiled egg, fruit or whatever will appeal to your guests.

12. Lettuce Wraps

If you're looking for cold dinner ideas that will appeal to low-carb dieters, lettuce wraps are a great option. These are similar to the collard wraps, but instead of using collard greens, pieces of romaine lettuce cups are used.

Lettuce wraps can be “stuffed” with virtually anything you like. Add chicken or tuna, or you can keep it vegetarian with garbanzo beans. Add vegetables, fruit or a chunky fresh salsa, like mango salsa.

Lettuce wraps can serve as an entrée itself, but this type of dish can also work well as an appetizer. Ingredients can change with the season, too, if that’s something your restaurant does.

13. Cold Stuffed Bell Peppers

Ditch the conventional hot stuffed pepper and trade it in for a cold, refreshing dish. Stuff raw bell peppers with a cold yogurt salad featuring cucumber, tomato, green onions, fresh herbs and chicken (or any protein). Use Greek yogurt for a thicker texture and stick with plain yogurt.

These stuffed peppers would make great appetizers, and their colorful nature makes them a feast for the eyes. Top with fresh herbs to take the presentation to the next level.

Although they are most popular in spring and summer, cold dishes are delicious any time of the year. They’re also quick and easy for staff to prepare. Use these ideas to change up your menu and offer something light and refreshing to customers.