Customer at CIAA party disputes ‘service charge’ on bill

Melanie Mills posted her receipt from Ruth’s Chris on Facebook.
Melanie Mills posted her receipt from Ruth’s Chris on Facebook. Courtesy of Melanie Mills

When Charlottean Melanie Mills got her check after attending a radio-station-sponsored CIAA party at Ruth’s Chris uptown Thursday, she noticed her two $11 drinks were adding up to ... more than $28?

She looked again. “SvcChg $4.62” was listed, plus tax – and beneath the total were calculations suggesting how much to tip.

She said, in a text conversation Friday, that she asked the bartender about the charge, and was told “it’s just what they do.” So she didn’t leave an additional tip – but she did post a photo of the receipt on Facebook, with hashtags: #CIAA #AutoTip #Shenanigans #RuthsChris #BlacksDoTip.

During last year’s CIAA Tournament, guests in the Ritz-Carlton’s hotel lounge were charged a 15 percent “CIAA service charge.” After an investigation by the N.C. Attorney General’s Office, the hotel agreed to refund customers who paid the charge, as well as instruct servers to alert customers to special service charges and donate $75,000 to the CIAA Scholarship Fund.

Calls to Ruth’s Chris Friday were referred to the chain’s public relations firm, New Orleans-based Deveney. A spokesman emailed two statements from the restaurant. The first noted that after the Thursday party “we have identified 62 of 543 guests’ checks who double tipped. Guests who double tipped may have been confused as a result of our standard gratuity fees, which were already added into their final check. We are sorry for any misunderstanding and our local franchisee is refunding all guests who double tipped.”

The second specified the party’s host had agreed in advance to the service charges, defined as “gratuity and administrative fees” – but that “because of the confusion, our franchisee is changing the way these prearranged charges are presented to guests hosting future private events.” It said those who had added a tip to the charge would receive “an automatic refund.”

Mills is not convinced the charge was accidental, and was annoyed that the restaurant did not plan to refund all service charges.

Her Facebook post had been shared more than 250 times by 5 p.m. Friday, though no other posts showing receipts with her suggested hashtag of #BlacksDoTip were evident.

Staff Writer Celeste Smith contributed.