A Bradenton restaurateur says Florida's rising costs are straining the industry
John Horne owns five restaurants, including several Anna Maria Oyster Bar locations. He discussed the changes he's seen in his 40 years in the industry, and the impact Florida's economy is having on it.
John Horne has seen a lot change during his 40 years in the restaurant industry.
Horne started his restaurant career as a busboy "as a summer job and loved it from day one. Absolutely loved it."
Speaking recently at the Anna Maria Oyster Bar — Cortez as the staff prepared to open, Horne addressed what he sees as a critical time for restaurant workers, who are feeling the strain of the changing economics.
"You know, one of our restaurants is celebrating its 50th year. Café L'Europe, down on St. Armand's Circle," said Horne, who also serves on the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association Board as vice chair and restaurant director.
"We've seen the menus from 1973, from 1977, when shrimp cocktail was 95 cents. And the most expensive thing was $2.95. Obviously, the prices have changed drastically in 50 years, but they've changed drastically in the last five years as well."
Inflation and its impact on the industry
Horne, a native and fifth-generation Floridian, said those rising costs have been especially felt this year.
He said food inflation in the first part of 2023 was up 14%, and "you can't raise your menu [prices] 14%."
"And you should raise it even more than that, because your food cost is 30% of your menu," Horne said. "So at that rate, I should raise by menu probably 50%. You can't do that. You can't do that. You can't just keep raising prices. "
To offset costs, Horne said he's found other ways to save money and keep prices in check.
"So we've got to find ways to be smarter, to work smarter," Horne said. "We learned we don't need as many people in an office during the pandemic. We're finding we don't need as many people working in the restaurant as we once thought. But that doesn't help with the employment if you're cutting back on your staff size."
Workers can't afford to live where they're employed
It also doesn't help restaurant workers who are struggling to make ends meet, including being able to afford living where they work.
"They can't afford to live on Longboat Key or Anna Maria Island anymore. And for the most part, they can't afford to live in a lot of places in Manatee and Sarasota counties.John Horne
"We were driving down Longboat Key to one of the restaurants this weekend. And I was pointing out to my wife, 'see those apartments right there' That's where all the staff for all the restaurants used to live,' " Horne said. "They can't afford to live on Longboat Key or Anna Maria Island anymore. And for the most part, they can't afford to live in a lot of places in Manatee and Sarasota counties.
"So it's something we're all working on. And we better work on it quickly, because it is a huge problem."
But is Florida ready, especially with its growing population?
"Absolutely not," Horne said.
"I mean, we've got to be able to provide transportation infrastructure, water, water, water, water. I don't know if I mentioned water, yet. It's so crucial that we are making sure that we can provide everything we need for these 1,000 a day moving to Florida.
"Yeah, you can keep building houses. But you have to have people that can support those houses. We have to have more restaurants if there's a 1,000 people a day. People go out to eat, thank goodness."
His advice to lawmakers?
"They need to be thinking about 2040, 2045, 2050, not tomorrow," Horne said. "We've got to look further ahead. We've got to make Florida so that it's affordable for everyone."