MONTREAL -- A new survey by Restaurants Canada has revealed that a large number of food service businesses will not survive the COVID-19 pandemic unless long-term solutions are put in place.

The survey, the results of which were released on Thursday, shows that 75 per cent of respondents are very concerned about their current level of debt.

If conditions do not improve within three months, one in two independent restaurants says they will have to close, and most businesses with more than one location think they will be forced to close at least one of them. 

At least three quarters of respondents said rent was the main source of debt for their business. 

Restaurants Canada is hoping to put an immediate moratorium on evictions and forced closings into place for commercial tenants, and is also looking for rent assistance at a percentage that corresponds to the drop in revenue. 

The group says businesses will continue to need support while their customers recover financially from the pandemic, as well. 

In April, Restaurants Canada said the pandemic had caused 800,000 job losses in the commercial sector. Since March 1, 10 per cent of restaurants across the country had closed their doors forever, and 80 per cent of restaurant owners had to lay off staff.

The restaurant industry accounts for 4 per cent of the country's gross domestic product, according to Restaurants Canada. If the crisis persists, a drop in sales of nearly $20 billion is predicted in the second quarter of 2020. 

The survey was conducted between April 15 and 21 and included responses from 914 food service operators across Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 23, 2020.