TAMPA, Fla. — While some say Thursday’s mandatory minimum wage increase may boost spending across the state, small business owners say it's more complicated than that.

That's the reality in today's restaurant industry according to Eddie Bujarski, owner of Bayscape Bistro at Heritage Isles Golf and Country Club in New Tampa.

"They're really, really having to bear down and cut their labor costs in order to save their food costs," said Bujarski.

What You Need To Know

  • Florida's minimum wage increases to $10 per hour Thursday

  • Most recently was $8.65 an hour

  • Will gradually increase each Sept. 30 until reaching $15 an hour in 2026

As the pandemic winds down, the cost to do business has being going up, Bujarski said.

From COVID safety measures from the kitchen and bar to the dining room, to the price of food.

"I'm at about 15 to 20 percent increase in what I'm spending, my food cost," Bujarski said.

The margins today are getting even tighter for small businesses with the minimum wage increase.

The current minimum wage in Florida is $8.65 – that’s $17,804 a year working 40 hours a week. That’s set to go to $10 today. The increase will go to $6.98 for tipped workers. Florida's minimum wage is already higher than the national hourly rate, which has been at $7.25 since July 2009.

Florida's wage will increase every Sept. 30 until 2026 and reach $15 per hour. Some larger companies are already at or near a $15 per hour starting wage.

Bujarski says his and most other restaurants are already paying well above minimum wage to keep staff employed, and an increase to the bottom of the salary scale could force all wages up.

"The restaurants have gotten really competitive, especially with COVID and the lack of a labor market, that we are having to compete with each other."

That means potentially higher prices on the menu, the ingredients of inflation trickling down to all of us this year.

Big businesses and restaurant chains with more capital and multiple locations can weather rising prices much better.

But many small businesses owners, including Bujarski, have seen a big rebound since the pandemic began, and that has offset the increases in operational cost, at least for now.