Small business owners in Edinburgh said they cannot afford to keep giving NHS worker discounts and have asked workers to stop asking for them.
Some business owners said they had been asked up to 100 times for deductions on food bills by NHS staff over the four-month lockdown period.
Some larger retailers have advertised discounts to NHS staff.
NHS Lothian said it was “not appropriate or acceptable to request free or discounted foods”.
Mohammed Alam, manager of Morningside Spice on Edinburgh’s Morningside Road, said he had never seen business so bad in the 17 years he had been working in the restaurant.
He said: “I have had about 100 NHS staff asking for discounts over the last four months.
“I have been happy to give NHS staff discounts when they have asked for it during the lockdown but now it is becoming more difficult for us.
“There is a big mental health hospital and a nursing home near here and that’s where they have been coming from to ask for discounts.
“Business is not going in the right direction because of the lockdown situation so we can’t keep giving the discounts like we have been doing.
“I also voluntarily gave Marie Curie in Fairmilehead 25 meals during the lockdown so I have been doing every thing I can to help but now we are struggling.
“Before the lockdown I would have about 80 people sitting in the restaurant on Friday nights and the same on Saturdays but now I’m down to between two to eight people on weekend nights, so business is very much down.”
Mohammed Parvez, 55, who is the owner of the Indian restaurant Rannaghor in Edinburgh’s Currie area, said he had been receiving three to four requests a week from NHS workers asking for discounts.
He said: “I’ve just been giving it to them because they have been asking me but the business hasn’t been doing so well so it is very hard to give discounts.
“I have helped the NHS with the discounts and now I’m asking everyone to support us so we can survive.
“The situation is getting worse and worse and I am just a little businessman so it is very hard.”
An Edinburgh fish and chip owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “I had a call from a nurse at a hospital asking for a free meal for her colleagues, it was five suppers and came to about £40.
“I asked her why and she said because it would help with all the stress they were going through at the moment.
“A week later two nurses in their uniforms came into my shop and one asked for a discount and when I said no she started arguing with me. I was saying you earn a full wage but she kept asking and asking until her colleague stepped in and said enough and told her to pay.
“Last night I had a man who said he was a paramedic who asked for an NHS discount but when my staff said no he was fine about it.
“I like to help everyone but unfortunately there is only so much we can do.
“NHS staff keep asking and it’s not right. It would make our life much easier if they would please stop asking for discounts.”
Janis Butler, NHS Lothian’s director of human resources and organisational development, said: “We have been humbled by the support of our communities right across Edinburgh and the Lothians during the pandemic.
“Local business, schools, organisations and individual members of the public made many generous offers of food and supplies to our staff and patients at the height of the pandemic.
“We offer our thanks again to them all for these extraordinarily generous gestures of their appreciation for the hard work and dedication of our staff.
“The overwhelming majority of our staff know that it is not appropriate or acceptable to request free or discounted foods and we would expect all our staff to treat traders with courtesy and respect.”
She added that they had not received any complaints from local businesses.