At the heart of the "silent protest" is a simple question: Can restaurants with significantly fewer tables make enough money to survive without government help?

Closing restaurants due to COVID-19 was difficult; opening them up won’t be any easier. Across America, we’ve seen government plans for what are believed to be the safest ways to ease coronavirus restrictions for eateries. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom suggested that continued social distancing measures may require dining establishments to halve their tables. The White House’s guidelines, though less specific, also spoke to “strict physical distancing protocols.”

But a potential problem persists: Just because a restaurant can reopen, doesn’t mean it’s worthwhile to reopen. In Georgia, plenty of restaurateurs believe that it’s too early for them to open their doors for health and safety reasons. And across the Atlantic, some Italian owners are reportedly worried that opening their establishment under suggested government guidelines would cause them to operate at a loss, potentially putting them out of business in the process.

Italy's Restaurants Protest New Social Distancing Measures
Credit: NurPhoto / Getty Images

As reported in The Drinks Business, a group called MIO (Movimento Imprese Ospitalita)—which claims to represent as many as 75,000 hospitality businesses—is calling for a "silent protest" starting tomorrow. Billed as “Risorgiamo Italia,” the protest is intended to highlight what they consider to be an unfair reopening strategy filled with “unsustainable parameters,” such as social distancing measures that would limit the amount of customers they can serve. MIO suggests that the Italian government already hasn’t done enough to protect their businesses, and argues that, without additional government support when they reopen under this new plan, they will face the same operating costs as before despite only bringing in about 30 or 40 percent of their usual revenue.

As gathering in person isn't possible, the protest is symbolic: participating restaurants will raise their shutters and turn on their lights and signs at 9 p.m., with a single empty table set, according to La Repubblica. Their demands include the cancelation and reduction of taxes due in 2020 and 2021, clearer operating guidelines, and immediate financial assistance.

“Aware of the medical drama that was hitting the country, we accepted these huge sacrifices willingly,” the group states according to a social media post. “Today, with one voice, we want to express in thousands the disappointment of those who have been left alone with their own expenses, employees, past economic commitments, and future uncertainties.”

Restaurant owners and the government still have time to reach an agreement. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced that the country’s economy—which has been under lockdown for seven weeks now—would begin reopening on May 4, according to the BBC, but restaurants and bars in Italy are not scheduled to be allowed to reopen for dine-in service until June 1.