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With the August long weekend in the rear view mirror and Labour Day on the horizon, Canadians are looking to squeeze every last drop of fun out of the final weeks of the summer.

Businesses of all sizes have a unique opportunity to capitalize on the additional tourist activity from vacations and staycations alike, both of which often includes everyone's favourite summertime activity: dining out.

Great restaurants are harnessing social media's power to attract new customers, earn loyal fans and sell more during the busy summer months. Here's how they're doing it:

They make dining out fun. What would Instagram be without photos of food? Anyone who uses the social photo sharing service knows that for many social media users, posting pictures of dinner is half the fun of dining out.

While it's typically the guests doing the posting, restaurants are quickly realizing that food fans spend a lot of time on Instagram and are reaching out to their audience via the platform.

From promoting menu items and special offers, to creating special hashtag menus or providing a behind-the-scenes look at the food prep, restaurants are finding offbeat ways to offer value to their potential diners and followers through social media.

In the restaurant business, like any other industry, making content engaging to the general public requires authenticity. This means letting your employees – and even consumers – contribute to your social identity while refraining from constant self-promotion.

For example, Trevor Bird, the chef and owner of Fable Kitchen in Vancouver's Kitsilano neighbourhood, promotes his creations through his own Instagram account. Not only does he showcase new menu items, he also takes consumers behind the scenes for an inside look at where the fruits and veggies come from before they end up on the plate. Promoting local grown, fresh produce, as well as a peek inside the kitchens of his restaurants, helps to localize and personalize the user experience.

It's less about promoting the brand, and more about allowing consumers to experience the restaurant's story through a platform they're already using.

They let their customers drive the content. It's not always easy for a business owner to give up control of their site or let the customer drive communication, but the emotional connection it can create often outweighs the risk. We've heard about big brands giving super fans control of their Twitter feeds for the day, but how about letting customers get involved on the spot when you need them?

Ottawa family-owned and operated restaurant, Greco on Bank, learned first-hand the power of social after mistakenly making 90 gyros when they misheard a customer place an order for just nine. Upon picking up their order, the customer made a public plea to locals on Reddit for help with selling the remaining food.

And they did. All 81 Gyros were sold within three hours, saving this small business $400.

Had the restaurant sent out the message itself, would they have enjoyed the same response? I don't think so. By having the customer make the plea to consumers, it became more relatable and the community wanted to help fix the mistake.

They play nice. There are many examples of restaurants promoting their competitors or working together to create something awesome. Toronto-based restaurant Marben recently wrapped its fourth annual #SausageLeague, a competition pitting various chefs and restaurants against one another in a head-to-head competition in search of the best sausage in the city.

Hosting the competition and pairing all sausages with a pint of beer allowed Marben to drive both foot and social traffic in an extremely unique and unexpected way.

By working with, instead of against, its local competitors, Marben is building credibility as well as an interested fan base. Yes, many small businesses are competitive, but if your product or service is unique and provides value for consumers there might be an opportunity to work together and show support for the industry as a whole. Marben brought together some of Toronto's favourite restaurants which allowed each business to grow its customer base while also letting diners be part of the conversation.

Remember, sometimes it takes more than one cook in the kitchen to create the right social recipe for your brand.

Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.

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