Can I say,

(a) When we arrived, there was / were no people at the restaurant.
1 2
Yes. Use "were" for the plural "people".
here it should be

When we arrived, there was no one in the restaurant
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so, which one is correct?
"There were no people..." is correct too.
Both suggested sentences are OK
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I agree that both are correct, but the previously suggetsed "There was no one" sounds more natural. "There were no people" sounds like perhaps there were... what? mice? Martians?
I think I know what you mean, GG, but I don't think the danger of taking were as a subjunctive here is major.
It's not the "were" that sounded odd.

You go to a place where people go. There's no one there.

Do you say "How odd. There are no people here" or "How odd. There's no one here"?

(Again, I'm not arguing the correctness of the first. Only the naturalness.)
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