A busy restaurant is a life enhancing experience. They delight us as we share food and soak up conviviality. But currently the thought of eating out is problematical. A YouGov poll last month found that 57 per cent of us would be apprehensive about going to a restaurant.

Yet although many of us wouldn’t dine out right now, we are missing restaurants badly, and longing for a time when they can reopen.

Unfortunately, you can’t close restaurants and expect them to bounce back into life miraculously again at some undisclosed later date. Restaurant insiders and analysts fear that we could lose half of our restaurants to the lockdown.

Just imagine the effect this would have on our cityscapes. Think of all the people who’d lose their jobs – chefs, front-of-house staff, suppliers – all the businesses that would be forced to stop trading, tragic economic casualties of coronavirus.

Michelin-starred chef Marcus Wareing recently warned that the UK restaurant industry, which is worth £20 billion per year, and which employs hundreds of thousands of workers, could collapse.

As one top Scottish chef told me, the effects of coronavirus have been “brutal”. “Every week we’re in a bigger hole. Rent due is building up. Our debt is mounting. We can’t just keep on borrowing or we’d be committing economic suicide.”

He says that all the great strides our restaurant industry has made in recent years, putting Scotland on the map as a first-rate restaurant destination, could be crushed, setting us back decades in gastronomic terms.

If you’re not in the business, you probably won’t know why restaurants are suffering more than other sectors of the economy.

The UK Government decided to exclude from its furlough scheme calculation any earnings restaurant employees got from the ‘tronc’, that’s the traditional system that pools service charges, redistributing them in salaries.

So, instead of restaurant staff getting furlough payments calculated on 80 percent of their earnings, many are getting more like 40 percent.

Can’t restaurants just adapt by doing more home delivery, more click and collect? Some can, because their cooking styles lends itself to that.

But for our best restaurants, where so much depends on the careful last-minute preparation and assembly of several elements, takeaway is near impossible.

Some highly rated restaurants have gamely started doing takeaways, by relaxing their fine dining styles and focusing on more informal, transportable dishes.

But no-one is under any illusions. For restaurateurs, these are emergency responses, not long-term solutions.

As for diners, well for me at least, a takeaway is a poor substitute for a restaurant visit.

Let’s hope that our restaurants can stagger through until lockdown ends, understanding landlords and banks allowing.

In the meantime, we must have an urgent conversation about how they might reopen their doors sooner rather than later. On the upside, the YouGov poll, carried at the peak of coronavirus infection and public anxiety, shows that 43 per cent of us would consider eating out.

But on what terms might that be? Here, I share the sentiments of UK restaurant legend Jeremy King, of Wolseley fame, who recently said: “I certainly have no interest in going to a place where I am sitting in isolation, surrounded by Perspex screens and served by someone in a mask and gloves. Where’s the fun in that?”

Some form of social distancing must be put in place if customers are going to return. Just how much though?

If the UK and Scottish governments insist on the scientifically baseless two-metre rule, that would spell the demise of most restaurants.

The requirement is impractical: most chefs work about one metre apart. And restaurants operate on tight margins, so a severe reduction in the number of covers they can accept would mean that they were losing money hand over fist.

The WHO recommends a more reasonable one-metre measure. Already Sweden, Italy, France, Norway, Denmark, Austria, and New Zealand have ruled that one metre distancing between tables is sufficient.

People who decide to be ‘lockdown lifers’ may never eat out again. No restaurant can ever guarantee them absolute safety from this virus.

But many of us who love eating out will be prepared to live with that risk and support restaurants when they reopen if, that is, our governments give them the chance.