This article presents an ethnographic study of control and resistance in a small professional service firm in the port transport industry. We argue that informal interaction between the owner-managers and their employees at a site beyond the organizational boundary, namely the local public house, provided the setting for rituals of resistance in which the participants achieved a modicum of role distance. These rituals, in turn, fulfilled a latent ‘tension-release function’ (Goffman, 1990: 241) that served subtly to reinforce and reproduce order in the firm. On the basis of this argument, our article makes a twofold contribution to small firm research. First, the specific combination of functionalist and interactionist approaches provides fresh ‘insights into how the complex and contested dynamics of interpersonal relations in small enterprises are handled’ (Ram, 1999b: 15). Second, our analysis suggests ethnographic research has considerable methodological potential to deepen the understanding of small firm employee relations.