TORONTO -- Toronto’s struggling restaurants are eyeing a return to outdoor dining as soon as May.

The city is set to roll out a bigger, better version of CafeTO, the municipal program that allows for expanded patios on sidewalks and streets during the pandemic.

“CafeTO offered us hope, it gave us a reason for optimism, it was a pathway for us to get out there and do it safely,” Councillor Brad Bradford told CTV News Toronto.

“I think everybody is very much looking forward to getting out of this latest lockdown, temperatures warming up, and getting back out there when it’s safe to do so.”

The 2021 version of the plan involved simplifying the application process and allowing for decks and platforms to get more businesses on board. Patio fees would be waived for participating restaurants.

“In the restaurant business the margins are razor-thin, so it’s a high-volume business,” Mary Fragedakis of Greektown on the Danforth Business Improvement Area said Tuesday.

“If you don’t have the volume, you can’t make money.”

Last year the city cordoned off nearly 10,000 metres of curb lane with 7,000 blocks, pylons, and planters to make way for outdoor dining. Two-thirds of the 801 restaurants that participated said the expanded outdoor dining was what kept their business alive during the pandemic.

The costs of the program include $987,000 for curb lane closure equipment, traffic plans and other operational needs; $775,000 in revenue loss for waived patio fees; and $2,500,000 in revenue loss for lost on-street parking.

The city hopes for the program to be operational beginning in May, if public health protocols allow.