Scotland's hospitality industry faces a "tidal wave of business closures and mass redundancies" if social distancing measures have to remain in place when bars and restaurants reopen, Nicola Sturgeon has been told.
A group of Scottish chefs including Nick Nairn, Martin Wishart and Tom Kitchin have highlighted their fears for the sector in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic in an open letter to the First Minister.
The group, which also includes the general manager of Restaurant Andrew Fairlie in Perthshire and the proprietor of The Witchery in Edinburgh, told Ms Sturgeon "over the past decade we have helped change the worldwide image of Scotland when it comes to food, drink and hospitality".
But they warned the "reputational change" the sector has enjoyed could now be "set back for a generation".
Hospitality is "one of the main pillars of the Scottish economy", they argued, employing some 220,000 people directly.
But the group warned: "As the lockdown continues and our doors remain closed with no end to that in sight, the very future of our businesses and the wider food and drink network we support is at risk."
To help, they want the First Minister to press the UK Government to extend the furlough scheme - which pays the bulk of wages for staff who can no longer work as a result of Covid-19 - beyond its current end date in October, with "further flexibility and phasing to support businesses until at least Q1 2021".
In addition to this, they want the Government to support a 12-month rent free period, with reductions "for as long as social distancing is required in our premises".
They said a business rates holiday should be extended until the end of June 2021 "to allow hospitality to get up and trading again".
To encourage Scots to come back to restaurants once the lockdown is lifted, the Scottish Government is being urged to develop a Covid Quality Assurance Scheme so businesses can "reassure their customers about the steps that have been taken to protect them from coronavirus".
It was suggested this could be rolled out by VisitScotland in association with Food Standards Scotland and local environmental health officers.
Making their plea for help, the restaurateurs said: "Put very simply, social distancing simply does not work in most restaurants, bars and hotels.
"People visit to enjoy a memorable experience with a high level of service and personal interaction, and this could never be achieved if staff had to maintain strict social distancing and wear PPE."
They added: "Hospitality already operates on a high cost base. In recent years we have faced additional spending including rent hikes, increased food and beverage costs, the new National Living Wage and higher business rates.
"Social distancing will result in revenue drops that will make most businesses unsustainable.
"There is also worrying evidence suggesting many people don't feel it is safe to eat out and will avoid visiting us even after lockdown is lifted.
"Against this background, if furlough ends and restaurants, bars and hotels are allowed to reopen but with social distancing enforced and no income from major events and festivals, the result will be a tidal wave of business closures and mass redundancies, increasing Scottish unemployment and the strain on the welfare system."
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Scotland's hospitality industry is vitally important - economically and socially - to everyone who lives here and who visits Scotland, and we are carefully considering how we plan the restart and long-term recovery of the sector and wider economy.
"The Scottish Tourism Emergency Response Group, chaired by VisitScotland, has been in place since the beginning of the crisis and has developed a plan to respond to the impact of the virus on the sector and that work will help inform how we move forward as we slowly and carefully emerge from this crisis.
"Our package of support includes 1.6% rates relief for all non-domestic properties in 2020-21 and 100% relief for properties in retail, hospitality, leisure and airports.
"We will look carefully at all of the suggestions put forward and press the UK Government to ensure that the correct support is available as we come out of the lockdown."