The Ritz Hotel Charlotte
Wright's bill indicated a surcharge was attached during CIAA week.Courtesy Patrice Wright
Charlotte resident Patrice Wright and her husband Tony stopped into the Ritz's Lobby Bar as they often do on Friday nights, to unwind and recap the week over drinks before going home. When the bill came for two mixed drinks, two bourbon Manhattans, and a basket of sweet potato fries, Wright noticed an extra $10.20 fee in addition to the regular tax, something called CIAA SVC CHRG.
Wright says she goes to social events around town several times a month, many of them in the city's hotels, and she'd never seen an additional tariff like this. She pointed it out to Tony, but he was ready to leave and didn't want a big scene. They paid up and walked out, but it bugged Patrice all the way home. She'd never seen anything like that during past CIAA weeks. "Do they not want us here?" she wondered.
She posted the receipt on Facebook to see if anyone else had the same suspicions, and it quickly went viral. A Ritz representative left her number on Wright's page and asked her to call to discuss the matter. Wright did, several times, "but I only got voicemails. She never called back."
A lot of ticked-off black Charlotteans think the tax was added because CIAA is largely a black event, and there is, in some quarters, a belief that black folk do not tip as well as they should. Or at all.
Wright says she knows about the perception that blacks don't tip, and she and her friends don't want to be put in that bucket, so when they go out — which is often — they tip liberally.
Now, studies like this one from Cornell University's "hotel school" say it's true that in general, middle-income and lower-income black folk don't tip as much as white patrons, but it doesn't say anything about high-income black folk. While the CIAA crowd is multi-generational — young alumni of the historically black colleges show up — the largest and most coveted segment is older alum and basketball fans who come from near and far for annual mini-reunions, prepared to spend serious money to enjoy themselves. Over the five-day event, it's very common to spot the kinds of expensive accessories (watches, shoes, handbags) and luxe autos you'd find in glossy luxury magazines.
Wright snapped a photo of the table tents the Ritz put out during the CIAA. Courtesy Patrice Wright hide captionitoggle caption Courtesy Patrice Wright
Wright snapped a photo of the table tents the Ritz put out during the CIAA.Courtesy Patrice Wright
In other words, this is not an unsophisticated crowd, and given the negative perceptions about blacks and tipping, it's easier to imagine them over-tipping than leaving pennies on the table.