Ovation Bistro

DAVENPORT – The owners of the Ovation Bistros’ three locations are used to serving more than 20,000 guests a month at their restaurants.

For the past eight weeks or so, though, they have dramatically changed their normal operating procedures and learned how to provide tasty to-go lunches and dinners to faithful patrons to comply with the safer-at-home order that was in place statewide.

Although the revenue they’ve made with this approach is well below their norm, brothers Joel and Fernando Rodriguez say they are happy to have done as well as they have in light of the pandemic and that they are learning to adapt to another new normal — this time with the restricted capacity rules restaurants were allowed to reopen dining in under.

“We ran crazy specials, but it worked,” Joel Rodriguez said.

Adapting as needed, the Rodriguez brothers say they are going above and beyond to make sure their customers continue to have the best dining experience possible while maintaining a safe atmosphere for them and their employees.

With locations in Davenport, Winter Haven and Lakeland, the brothers — originally from Haines City — have spent years working hard to see their establishments become successful local favorites.

“Even before COVID-19, I still worked like I only have $10 in the bank,” said Joel.

Joel and Fernando got their starts in the industry at local steakhouses, working their way through the ranks before eventually opening the first Ovation Bistro location in Davenport.

They say the shift to relying on to-go orders was tough, but that it was important to them that they keep the businesses up and running.

“We lost money, but we had to keep our people employed,” Joel said.

According to the National Restaurant Association, more than half of the nation’s 15 million restaurant workers have filed for unemployment since the pandemic began.

When the crisis first began, the three locations totaled about 120 employees. The brothers successfully avoided having to lay any employees off, but said a few employees did leave to pursue other opportunities.

“We found something for everyone to do – projects that we had been putting off, we worked on and have completed,” Joel said.

Management scheduled all of the employees in the “front of the house” — servers, bartenders and other similar positions — two days each week. Salaried managers became hourly employees during this timeframe.

At the beginning of each shift, each employee’s temperature is taken. The absolute minimum number of employees are used in the kitchen and behind the bar. There is only one way in and two ways out of the restaurant and they do not cross. Tables are spread out and the waiting area has been eliminated to add more tables there.

Employees have been instructed to sanitize everything. Ultraviolet lights are being used in high-traffic areas and in the air conditioner vents to kill germs. Guests are given one-use menus and have the option of plastic or regular cutlery. Items such as drink special ads and condiments have been removed from the tables — guests must even ask for salt and pepper.

Some loyal customers have dropped off checks to be divided between the employees. A couple of $500 and $100 checks, plus several of $50, have been split up.

Joel and Fernando have matched many of the tips, as well.

“Hopefully, if we keep doing the right things, customers will keep coming back,” Joel said.

Those interested are encouraged to learn more about the restaurants’ subscription program by going to ovationbistro.com.

Ovation Bistro’s three restaurants are located at 42605 U.S. Highway 27 North, in Davenport; 7130 Cypress Gardens Boulevard in Winter Haven; and 4715 South Florida Avenue, in Lakeland.