Ritz must end CIAA tip flap

The Observer editorial board

This Ritz-Carlton bill shows the controversial service charge.
This Ritz-Carlton bill shows the controversial service charge. WBTV

Nearly four months have passed since Charlotte’s Ritz-Carlton slapped an automatic 15 percent surcharge on the bills of its lounge patrons during the CIAA basketball tournament.

You would think the resulting outcry, complete with inflammatory phrases like “black tax” being bandied about, would have spurred the luxury hotel to take quick, decisive action to refund customers’ money and quell the uproar.

But N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office suggests the luxury hotel chain isn’t exactly moving with zeal to put the affair to rest. Despite two months of discussions between the hotel and Cooper’s office, the dust-up remains “largely unresolved,” according to a June 9 letter from Harriet Worley, a special deputy attorney general in the consumer protection section.

She wrote the letter to the Ritz-Carlton’s lawyer in what seems an obvious attempt to dial up the pressure. There’s also a draft of a lawsuit Cooper’s office intends to file in 14 business days if no progress is made. It seeks refunds of affected customers’ money and an injunction against similar surcharges by the hotel.

All of that got the Ritz-Carlton’s attention. The Ritz’s marketing director told the Observer’s Jonathan McFadden that the hotel was surprised to hear the attorney general suggest it wasn’t interested in resolving the matter expeditiously. The marketing director said hotel officials have since reached out to Worley, and the hotel remains optimistic that the two sides can settle the matter.

Let’s hope so. The hotel tacked the fee labeled “CIAA SVC CHRG” onto patrons’ bills without warning them ahead of time. That’s wrong. Some people added tips to their bills, not realizing the hotel was automatically tipping servers with the surcharge. Some thought the extra money was going to the CIAA.

The hotel has repeatedly apologized for the mixup, and rightfully so. But more than apologies are in order. Patrice Wright, a Mint Hill woman who was among those hit with the service charge, says she has yet to receive a refund.

The hotel should not allow this to drag out any longer. It must refund customers’ money and pledge that such a surcharge won’t show up during future CIAA tournaments – at least not unless it also appears during other major sporting events and conventions.

Cooper’s aggressive advocacy on the matter is drawing criticism from some who say he’s just trying to score political points with CIAA alumni and Charlotte’s African American community, both of whom could boost his expected gubernatorial bid.

Political optics notwithstanding, the facts certainly justify his office’s involvement. No one appreciates getting sneak-attacked on their bar bill.

If indeed the hotel has been dragging its feet, we can’t imagine a good reason why. You don’t want to bruise the feelings of visitors who pumped an estimated $50 million into Charlotte’s economy, including your hotel, last year.

Let’s settle this up now.