N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office is demanding answers from the Ritz-Carlton in uptown Charlotte about why the hotel tacked a 15 percent service charge on guests of the hotel’s lounge during the CIAA basketball tournament last month.
“We are writing to request that you provide us with some information so that we can better understand the nature and circumstances of the surcharge and how it was disclosed to consumers,” Harriet Worley, special deputy attorney general for the office’s Consumer Protection Division, wrote to the hotel’s manager, David Rothwell, on Monday.
Cooper’s office forwarded a copy of the letter to the Observer on Tuesday. The Consumer Protection Division enforces the state’s laws against unfair and deceptive trade practices, and can compel customer refunds.
The hotel issued an apology Friday to anyone offended by the 15 percent service charge the hotel billed patrons in its lounge during the Feb. 24-28 tournament.
“We would like to apologize to any guests we may have offended by the addition of a service charge we implemented at a recent event in our lobby lounge,” the apology said.
The apology, a copy of which was obtained by the Observer, said “the service charge was not intended to single out any particular group or organization, and we deeply regret any misunderstanding this may have caused.
“It is important for all guests to feel welcomed at our hotel and for them to receive the highest level of service, respect and hospitality we strive for every day.”
The apology didn’t explain why the hotel put a “CIAA service charge” on customer receipts, as shown on a receipt obtained by WBTV, the Observer’s news partner.
The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association is the oldest African-American athletic conference in the nation.
The issue came to light when a Ritz-Carlton patron complained to WBTV about the charge.
Patrice Wright told WBTV that she and her husband have frequented the Ritz-Carlton lounge several times “and never had any surcharge that was associated with any organization that was in town.
“Is there an ACC championship surcharge?” Wright asked. “Is there a Speed Street surcharge? Is there a Belk Bowl surcharge?”
The hotel said in an email to the station that “due to the size of the CIAA event, we instituted a modest 15 percent service charge for our lobby beverage servers, on whom the event places significant demands throughout the weekend.”
WBTV reported that the hotel didn’t respond when asked whether it added similar service charges during other large events.
In her letter, Worley asked Rothwell to answer these questions about the surcharge:
• When did management decide to impose the surcharge?
• What was the purpose of the surcharge?
• At what dates and times during the CIAA Tournament was the surcharge imposed?
• Did the hotel impose the surcharge uniformly on all patrons during the time period it was imposed?
• How and when did the hotel disclose to the consumers that their bills would include the surcharge?
• From an accounting standpoint, what did the hotel do with money that it collected via the surcharge?
• Has this hotel imposed similar surcharges for other events? If so, please list the events, the dates of the events, and the amount of the surcharges imposed at those events.
Worley asked Rothwell to respond within 10 days.
“We will be cooperating and will respond in due course,” Heidi Nowak, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, said in an email reply to the Observer Tuesday.
Observer staff writer Ely Portillo contributed