Philadelphia’s service-industry workers have one less thing on their plate this week, after the city ended its mask mandate Wednesday. But they wonder if the move is another short-lived change that will set them up to face disgruntled customers down the road.

“I kind of feel like we’re playing with fire,” said Michelle Linahan, the manager of a small restaurant in South Philly. “In a couple of weeks, are they going to change it again and are people going to take it out on us?”

Linahan, who’s also president of the Point Breeze Business Association, checked vaccine cards and enforced masking at her establishment; she felt it was unfair to ask less senior staff to deal with any pushback. In the weeks since the city dropped its vaccine mandate for indoor dining, she has noticed more customers coming into the restaurant without masks.

“It’s creating the opposite effect: As soon as you take away one rule, people think, ‘Everything’s over. We’re all good now,’” she said. “You give people an inch and they’ll take a mile.”

Linahan suspected her staff would opt to continue wearing masks during work, and other workers interviewed said much the same.

» READ MORE: Philly’s mask mandate ends, marking a step closer to normal but drawing mixed reactions

Gavin Mcilhinney, manager at a University City restaurant, said employees at his establishment would be allowed to choose whether to mask up , but he stressed the importance of masks (and vaccines) in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses. “I firmly believe the staff I supervise should be careful. If they have a cough, cold, or something that appears minor, it’s important for others’ safety to wear a mask and/or stay home.”

Employees will continue to mask at Mike’s BBQ in East Passyunk, said front-of-house staffer and partner Troy Morris, who’s also a full-time medical social worker. Morris thinks dropping the mandate is a logical step, but a big change for customer-facing workers nonetheless.

“I’m sure it will take a while for all of us to feel comfortable with it,” he said, adding that he’s encountered very little resistance to either mandate from Mike’s patrons. Even so, “not requiring masks or vaccinations will definitely make things easier.”

“Given the roller coaster of the last two years, it’s very hard to believe this is the end, though of course I’d be thrilled if it were,” Morris said.

Save for a brief break last summer, Philadelphia’s restaurants and bars have been on the hook to enforce masking and other lapsed social-distancing policies since June 2020, when dine-in service first returned. Front-of-house staff often felt as if they were babysitting.

» READ MORE: What it’s like to be a server during the pandemic: ‘The things that I loved about my job — they were gone’

Micah Edwards, head bartender at Roy Pitz Barrel House in Spring Garden, said he’d be happy not to “have to bang my head against the wall reminding customers to put their masks on when they get up from their seat.” But he worries about the increased risk of exposure without any precautions in place. He has an infant son at home.

“It feels like the restriction are put in place, they seem to be working, so we get rid of them, and then there’s another COVID spike,” Edwards said. “It seems like that’s happening again. Hopefully I’m wrong.”

Dallas Walker Peterson, a Philly service-industry worker, framed the decision to do away with the mask mandate as a necessary concession.

“In a perfect world, everyone would wear [masks] ad infinitum without complaint or friction, but that’s unfortunately not practical,” Peterson said. “The bottom line is we lose a lot of credibility if we chastise scientific skeptics for not following CDC guidance and then turn heel when it’s on our side of the court.”

Other workers had sunnier outlooks. Staff were relieved to see the end of the mask mandate at MilkBoy Restaurant Group, said longtime employee Renee Maffiore. In MilkBoy’s compact South Street location, “management would literally have to ask someone to put their mask on to take three steps inside and sit down,” she said. “It became kind of a grievance at times.”

Maffiore hopes the end of masking will stick this time.

“It definitely seems like we’ve reached a turning point lately,” she said. “More people vaccinated has helped the surges end quicker. Now with the warm weather coming — I’m optimistic this could be our new ‘normal’ again.”