Small restaurants often get overlooked in the wealth of big-name chains and franchises. People might drive right past your restaurant door unless you make sure they know who you are and what you have that the big guys don't.
Make yourself familiar. People are comfortable with big brands because they seem them everywhere and so they become familiar. If they eat at a particular large restaurant, have a good meal, then every time they see another one they'll have that comfortable, familiar, good feeling about it. That's why they are more likely to go to the larger chains than to a smaller, unknown restaurant. Your job is to make yourself familiar enough to your area that they will be comfortable with you, hence, more likely to come eat at your restaurant.Make sure your sign is large, easy to read, and visible from the road.Create a logo, particular style and font for your restaurant name, and maybe a catchy phrase. USE THESE EVERYWHERE. Remember, repetition makes you familiar. Put them on your menu, on every piece of advertising you do, on your sign, on your business cards. Speaking of business cards, do you have some?
Get business cards. Small restaurant owners might not see a need: I'm in the restaurant, I have a sign, I advertise. Right? Well, yes, but people matter to people more than a sign or an advertisement. If I meet you at my son's ballgame, we have a nice conversation, you mention your restaurant, and then you leave without giving me a card, what are the chances that I will remember the name of your restaurant and where it is located? But if you have a card with your name and your restaurant's name and location on it, I will not only see it, which helps me remember, but I will have a concrete reminder to go eat there. So, get business cards, with your logo, style, and catchy phrase on them, and give them out to everyone you meet, everywhere, all the time. Don't let yourself run out, either
What's your specialty? Do you have one? You better. You have to give people a reason to come to you. Do you have the best steaks, the best pasta, an amazing appetizer menu, outrageous desserts, drink specials every night? Are you kid-friendly, family-friendly, vegetarian-friendly, kosher-friendly? Do you do special orders? Can you accommodate allergy and dietary restrictions? Do you use only local, fresh produce? What do you offer that those big restaurants don't? Find out, figure it out, and then promote it.
Partner up with other local businesses. You are competition only to other restaurants. There are lots of businesses besides restaurants out there, so team up with them for joint discounts, deals, coupons, and specials. You can split advertising costs, plus you will automatically increase your client base because their customers will see your name in their store. (It works well for them, too.) Teaming up a very cost-effective way to promote your restaurant, and it helps other local businesses, as well.
Have a few really good deals all the time. Unless you're running a very high-end small restaurant, money will be an issue for your customers. Maybe for you, too. You've got to keep your prices high enough that you make a profit, but learn from the grocery stores and incorporate a few loss-leaders into your menu. These are items that are priced very, very low. You may even take a small loss on them. However, they will get people into your restaurant, and chances are that they will purchase other items besides the great deals while they are there. Be sure to promote these deals in your advertising. Another option, if you don't want to offer such low prices all the time, is to pick a particular day of the week, like Two-for-One Tuesday or something similar.