Posted on Dec 1, 2011 @[email protected]

Small businesses, already on a tight budget, are looking for new ways to cut costs as they brace for minimum wage increases in several U.S. states next month.

Strategies range from cutting back workers’ hours, to replacing waiters with an automated ordering system.

Eight states including Arizona, Florida and Washington will require employers to pay non-salaried workers a minimum of 32 cents more per hour, on average, starting Jan. 1. While occasional increases to the minimum wage—which currently stands at $7.25 an hour nationally, but varies by state—are nothing new, the planned 2012 adjustments will hit many businesses at a time when profits are razor thin.

“It’s a big deal,” says Skip Vallee, chairman and chief executive officer of R.L. Vallee Inc., a convenience-store chain with 60 locations in Vermont, New Hampshire and New York.

About half of R.L. Vallee’s roughly 450 employees make the minimum wage—mostly entry-level cashiers, sales associates and inventory-control personnel. To cope with the wage increases in Vermont, the 69-year-old family business plans to cut employees’ work hours in that state and is considering having employees there pay a larger share of the premiums for their employer-provided health insurance.

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