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The Deal: Minimum Wage Rhetoric Has 'Diet' Taste

"Our ability to respond to minimum wage increases by increasing menu prices will depend on the responses of our competitors and customers," the filing said.

Local legislatures are also getting in on the act of trying to get retailers to pay closer to a living wage. When, earlier this year, the Washington city council threatened to impose a law requiring retailers with sales greater than $1 billion and floor plans exceeding 75,000 square feet to pay employees $12.50 hourly, Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) said it would abandon plans to develop outlets in the district.

Dan Hoverman, director with Houlihan Lokey's capital markets group, said the Wal-Marts and Potbellies of the world could ultimately see some kind of a net benefit from a minimum wage increase -- many customers could find themselves spending more at their outlets. And, he noted, some might need it.

"Real income has gone down significantly since the financial crisis," Hoverman said, noting that more than half of the average American household's income is allocated to food, transportation and housing.

Businesses have already laid off employees, and others have scaled back full-timers' hours to offset Affordable Care Act requirements. Many might not have room to cut staff further.

"I don't think this will alter the employment picture that much," Hoverman said. Sources said the backlash is likely never coming. Or, at least, not in this political environment.

Not all restaurateurs and LBO shops need fret. Some parts of the restaurant sector could completely miss out on the pain of a potential wage increase.

"It depends on the price point of the restaurant," said Marc Leder, co-CEO of Sun Capital Partners.

He offered the example of a steakhouse, where staff already make more than the minimum wage, in part because their expertise on crucial matters like wine pairings creates a premium for those workers.

Further, one source added, a minimum wage increase will not have a tremendously substantial impact on many consumer dining operations' books. While not universal, the source said that on average, only one-third of a restaurant's cost structure will go toward hourly pay. The more a business pays its employees already, the less the impact of a substantive wage hike will be felt.
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