‘CIAA service charge’ upsets customers at Ritz lobby lounge

Patrice Wright and her husband stopped in at the lobby lounge at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Charlotte on Friday and had some sweet potato fries and four drinks between the two of them.

The CIAA was in full swing at that time.

The bill for the Wrights’ drinks and sweet potato fries was $68 before taxes. It wasn’t the price for drinks that caught their eyes.

“When she brought the receipt, there was a CIAA surcharge that was included,” Wright told WBTV. “And we thought that’s interesting because we have frequented the establishment several times and never had any surcharge that was associated with any organization that was in town.”

WBTV contacted the Ritz-Carlton to find out why there was a CIAA service charge.

In an email to WBTV, the hotel said, “Due to the size of the CIAA event, we instituted a modest 15% service charge for our lobby beverage servers, on whom the event places significant demands throughout the weekend.”

But Patrice Wright says the service charge is raising questions in her mind.

“Is there an ACC championship surcharge?” she said. “Is there a Speed Street surcharge? Is there a Belk Bowl surcharge?”

WBTV asked the Ritz if the hotel has a service charge for other big events in the city and if there was a service charge for the 2014 CIAA. Hotel management didn’t answer those questions.

“I was shocked,” Wright said. “I was disturbed because I thought that kind of price gouging had been addressed in previous years.”

Tom Murray, chief executive officer of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, said, “That’s not our decision. Certainly it is their decision to defend whether they thought it was the right thing to do or not.

“I know it’s common practice in the industry for some restaurants to charge an automatic gratuity for large parties or special circumstances, and that’s what they may have done.”

Murray said private businesses can change whatever prices they want. He said the CRVA was not aware of the CIAA service charge until Monday.

“I think what it really was – was an automatic gratuity,” he said. “That’s what we understand from the Ritz-Carlton. So it certainly wasn’t a CIAA surcharge – that was misleading, and I think that was problematic.”

Patrice Wright said no Ritz employees told her or her husband about the CIAA service charge or automatic gratuity before or after the bill arrived.

“We left a gratuity in addition to the CIAA surcharge,” she said. “I’ve been to several different conventions and conferences, and we went to the Ritz and I’ve never seen that before. And if they had to do it, it should be blanket. It should not be identified by CIAA.”

WBTV is a media partner of The Charlotte Observer