Mike Quillen, co-owner of Sarasota-based Gecko’s Hospitality Group, echoes many in hospitality when he says “it’s a very tight labor market that’s getting much tighter.”
Because of the strong economy, Quillen says the group has experienced competition for employees with other restaurants and hotels opening in Sarasota and the surrounding area. There’s a constant pressure from what he calls the “explosion” of hotels that have opened specifically in downtown Sarasota.
One way the company tries to keep its employees is through elevating the standard grind and churn that defines other restaurants.
“Our employees are our heroes, and we treat them as such,” Quillen says. That includes offering people at all levels of the business respect and giving them opportunities for additional training — something the company places a big emphasis on. The family of restaurants, which includes six Gecko’s restaurants as well as Smacks Burgers & Shakes, Dry Dock Waterfront Grill, Dockside Waterfront Grill and The Red Bar Barn, was founded in 1992.
Quillen says one aspect of the company's retention he thinks particularly appeals to millennials and the Generation Z coming up behind them is the its community involvement. It regularly donates money and volunteers with organizations related to law enforcement, veterans groups and children. “They want to be identified with a group or a company that has a mission," he says. "I think that’s really important. It attracts people to the company.”
Another way Gecko’s draws employees in? The company’s longevity. “Thankfully, from the support of the community, we’ve been very successful,” he says. “People want to be associated with a successful company.”
As a result, none of the Gecko’s Hospitality properties are experiencing a critical labor shortage now, but there are some times — especially in March and April during one of the heights of Sarasota’s season — when endless guests come through the door and talent gets tight. “There’s no magic wand that we can wave over things,” Quillen says. “It’s an amalgamation of what we do and the reputation we have.”