The Balefire Servers’ Manual

Posted on September 6, 2015


Have a chance to think about another space, and then last night a good friend pulled out a bottle of Balefire pyment, was pretty sure that was all gone. So, I’ve been dusting off and looking at some old documents.

When you aren’t ready for it, it’s hard to tell good luck from bad.

When Balefire first opened in November we were a huge hit right out of the gate. Too huge, because when our landlord reneged on giving us the three months free rent that was in the lease agreement, we opened without training the staff. Hell, we opened without training me. I knew how important this was, my original business plan had a whole month set aside for it. We just weren’t ready. As a result, by February, we could barely get people to come in. When they did, they left me long, detailed messages about their experiences to consume in the wee hours when I got home. (Thank god they did, or I wouldn’t have known just how bad it was.) Something had to be done. After all, the whole reason I opened my own place was to finally get some decent service. As a result, we actually closed the bar for a week and spent a weekend training the staff and role playing. People were given Always/Never rules to follow (something I did with my first company), and if that wasn’t to their liking, they were let go. It worked, over the lifetime of the bar our tip ratio was an astonishing 28%, but it still took us two full years to have a month as busy as our first. Imagine if we’d gotten it right to start.

Recently, I dusted these off to lend to some friends who are starting their own venture.  All I can hope is they learn from my mistakes. As my Aikido Sensei said one time after crushing me to the mat for ill-prepared attack: “Get ready, then go.” I have never forgotten that hard-earned lesson. I just don’t always get to apply it.

Balefire Employee Manual for Service, Etiquette, and Sales


Balefire is about service. We want to provide a higher standard of service than is seen just about anywhere in Seattle, but is common in other places. You must understand that we have a different clientele: usually middle aged, middle to upper class with disposable income. They are coming to Balefire for the total experience and have enough savvy to understand what that is. They are also prepared to spend more money than patrons of a typical bar. The better the service, the better the sales, the better our reputation, the more regulars we have, the more money you make. Especially in this economy, it’s not enough to provide the best service in Everett, we need to provide the best service possible.

You must understand that even if the things below do not resonate with your personal feelings, this is what the customers demand. For instance, when we first opened, we did not have coasters. Personally, I think they are frivolous, yet the customers demanded them. Now, every time I put a coaster under a drink that does not have one, the customer thanks me. Therefore, even though I personally don’t see the value in this, the customers do, and I make sure every customer has a coaster.

Likewise I don’t care if you agree with these procedures, it’s a job requirement to follow them. There is no room at the moment for deviation from the scripts below. We simply are not there yet. Until we can do the following correctly, every time, these are the only actions I want to see in the bar. This is basically a codification of what I do when I serve, therefore while it may seem like a lot of steps/information, I can promise you it is a very doable procedure.

I’ve formulated them into what I call Always/Never rules to help you remember them.

You will make more money by following this. On nights I work, the bartenders regularly make 20+% on tips.

Phone Etiquette

Currently we only have 3 rings before the phone goes to voice mail. We are working on it, but in the mean time, if the phone rings pick it up!

If it is before 6PM say:

Always: “Good afternoon, Balefire bar.”

If it is after 6PM say:

Always: “Good evening, Balefire bar.”

  • If it is a solicitor, simply hang up. There is no reason to even be polite.
  • If it is somebody trying to do business, please give them Daron’s name and number and tell them to call back during the day. His card is posted by the phone.


Service and Sales

Every customer gets the same experience, whether a regular or a first time customer.

Service has to be “East Coast” quality. We cannot come off as lackadaisical, which is currently our number one complaint. Put the “fire” in Balefire.

While some of these things seem small, the complaints we receive are consistently about exactly these small things. Therefore, learn these steps and do not deviate from them.


While service is paramount, it is important that you understand the sales aspect of the job as well. We have a defined procedure for dealing with guests so that even if one person does the meet and greet and another person follows up, there will be a consistent experience for the guests.

Five-Step Service Procedure

  • Greet the guest
  • Meet the Guest: Determine guest focus/sell to the guest
  • Get first order
  • Deliver drinks Resell/Prebus, make sure guest knows what other events/aspects of the bar pertain to their interests.
  • Cash out


  • Always: I cannot stress this enough: Everybody gets a consistent experience. We sometimes don’t treat the regulars as well as the first-timers, or the first-timers are ignored while we converse with regulars. We have a surprising number of friends who spend good money to keep us in business, but this is not a model for growth, and it’s just rude to ignore them. Treat everybody like they had their name on the bar, and treat people whose name is on the bar like royalty.

1.        Greet

Do not underestimate the importance of the greeting People want to be acknowledged. It’s a basic human need.

  • Always: Greet guest by the time they make the distance from the door to the bar. Looking up and going back to work is not sufficient. If you are in the kitchen and hear the bell, stop what you are doing, come out, and greet them.
  • Always: If you do not recognize the person/people say: “Welcome to Balefire.” Do not deviate from this.
  • Always: If you know or recognize the guest it is okay to be less formal, but it is not okay to not explicitly recognize them.
  • Always: If you are talking to another worker or customer and there is nobody else to take the greeting, politely, but firmly disengage and make the greeting.
  • Always: If the bar is busy, make eye contact and walk towards the customer to make the greeting while bringing them coasters and a menu.
  • Never: Say “guys.”
  • Never: Ignore a guest.
  • Never: Improvise on the greeting.

2.        Meet

It is our job to get people in the door the first time. It is your job to get them to come back. The following are tried and true behaviors to ensure this.

  • Always: Bring a menu to the table and give every guest a coaster.
  • Always: Ask them if they live or work locally. This will help tailor the rest of your conversations with them.
  • Always: Find out if they are going to an event.
  • Always: If this is their first visit, introduce yourself and inform them of our mission:

“Balefire is about putting beer and wine on equal footing. We have the most eclectic selection of tap beer north of Seattle, plus our bottle selection, and we have 24 wines by the glass under inert argon gas to keep them in perfect condition.” Practice this.

3.        Get the Order

Another fact of service/salesmanship is that people don’t necessarily want to make decisions. They will trust you to make suggestions. Push the specials, push the better wine. If you improve their experience, they will reward you for it. As one of our customers, who once waited tables in NYC said, “I don’t want to make decisions, tell me what I want.”

  • Always: Make sure they know about the specials. Before they even look at the menu, make sure that they know about any food specials or events we have going on (cask club, wine tasting, music). Often you can get the first order on the first table visit by doing this.
  • Always: Ask them if they are here for beer, wine, or food. And then focus your pitch on this. It is your responsibility to know the menus and be able to discuss them.
  • Always: Once you have narrowed the focus, sell, sell, sell. Tips are basically commission sales.
  • Always: If the people are neophytes take time to go through the wine menu, pick a category and explore it with them using free ½ pours. If there is room invite them right up to the bar to do this.
  • Always: Likewise with beer. We have unusual beers, so you might have to help them zero in on a beer. Use the sample glasses.
  • Always: Generally assume that people are ordering full pints, a 5 oz pour, or a 2 oz dessert pour. Offer the smaller sizes if they are undecided, limiting out, or are small (seriously, one reason we have the smaller pours is so women can have multiple drinks, people do appreciate that).

4.        Deliver Drinks/Resell

Get the drink order and give them time with the menu if they do not go for your suggestion.

  • Always: Discuss food when you deliver drinks.
  • Always: Sell our food menu. Don’t apologize for it. We spent a lot of time developing it. Mention that we have “full flavored small portions that are quite filling and paired to the wine list.”
  • Always: Push desserts. Mention that many are large enough to share.
  • Always: If they order dessert, recommend a dessert wine.
  • Always: Bus any empty seat.
  • Never: Get involved in a conversation with one guest to the extent that service to other guests suffers. Even when you are talking to them, continuously scan the room.
  • Never: Reach across somebody to bus.
  • Never: Touch the food, the bowl of a glass, or the blade of silverware.
  • Never: Carry anything under your arm (pepper, menus, silver bundle) that you are placing in front of a guest.

Continuing Visits

  • Always: You want to be responsive, not obtrusive. If there is an empty plate, silver, or napkin on any table or the bar at any point in time, remove it. If in doubt, ask.
  • Always: When a beer has less than 2” or a glass of wine less than 2 oz, ask people if they would like another drink.
  • If people are wine lovers and they order a wine in a particular category, pour them a half ounce of another wine in that category you particularly like and drop it off at the table. Just say “Try this.” and walk away. When you get a chance, come back, discuss the wine and tell them why you thought they might like it.
  • If people do not want another drink, print the bill and drop it off reminding them that there is no rush.
  • Never: Let an empty glass sit on a table for any reason. They are either done, or would like another beer.

5.        Cash Out

  • Always:You must be cognizant of when people are finished. If you follow up on empty or near-empty glasses you should know who is done, and who is nearly done.
  • Always: Deliver a tear sheet and point to the specific events that pertain to their interests. If people order wine tell them about Wines of the World on Monday. If they are local and order beer, inform them of Cask Night and mug club. Make sure locals always know about music or other entertainment.
  • Always: Remove any plates, glasses, linen, and silver at the latest when you remove the bill
  • Never: Let finished guests sit with a bill unless they desire to do so. Not only do we need to turn tables, but your tip diminishes by every moment somebody has to wait to leave. Many people come to Balefire for a pre-event or even pre-dinner reasons. Give them a reason to make this a habit.


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