Pizzeria operators in Bemidji, Minn., are upset that several hotel operators say they'll charge 50 cents for every pizza delivered to their properties beginning immediately.

A group called the Innkeepers of Bemidji, representing about a half dozen area hotels in the resort town on the shores of Lake Bemidji, say the mess left behind from pizza consumption causes housekeeping staffs added strain, stains their towels and increases trash removal costs.

In a letter sent by the Innkeepers to some Bemidji pizzerias (some operators reported never receiving the letter, but said they heard about the proposed charge by word of mouth), delivery drivers are instructed to report to each hotel's desk and have their pizzas counted before delivering them to a room. Each pizza operation then would be billed monthly for the number of pizzas delivered.

The letter also said that operators could avoid the 50-cent charge by giving food to hotel staffs in trade for recommending their operation. Papa John's manager Lindsey Korte called that "worse than giving 50 cents per box. I will not trade pizza with them for this bill."

The problem with trading with food instead of paying with cash, said John Wills, a Domino's Pizza assistant manager, is that it doesn't help address the hoteliers' concern about the supposed pizza mess.

"What would be an acceptable number of pizzas if we did that?" said Wills, who estimated paying the fee would cost his boss $350 a month. "Would it be 10 or 12 a week? Nobody's going to agree with that."

Red scare

According to published reports, hotel operators claim bath towels and carpets that are irreversibly stained by tomato sauce suffer most when guests eat pizza in their rooms. And the sheer number of boxes left by pizza patrons fills their dumpsters to overflowing.

Pizzeria operators contend their job is to provide a service requested by guests, and that there's nothing they can do to ensure hotel rooms remain clean.

"I know pizza is sometimes a messy food, but it really depends on who's eating it," said Korte. "I know it can be a pain to clean up, but what can we do besides sending napkins with every order?"

Bemidji locals are siding with the pizzeria operators on the issue. Eighty-five percent of voters taking a poll at the Web site of the town's daily newspaper, the Bemidji Pioneer, say hotel operators shouldn't charge pizzerias for delivery. Thirteen percent of respondents say they should, and 2 percent aren't sure.

"Explain there will be an extra charge sent to them if the room is extra messy more than normal," he wrote. "Take a picture of the room and send it along with their cleanup charge."

Excerpt from a letter to the editor of the Pioneer Press, sent by Jim Braaten, Bemidji, Minn., resident.

Wills said he'd read "at least five" published letters to the editor speaking out against the delivery charge. One from resident Jim Braaten gave a tongue-in-cheek warning to local water and utility companies that they could be charged next.

"How about the power company? Maybe you can charge them 50 cents each time a room is rented and your customer turns a light or TV on for the wear on the switch," Braaten wrote. "Watch out, city of Bemidji, that you don't get a bill for offering water and sewer because their customers want to take a shower and now the bathroom is in need of cleaning for their next customer."

The solution, Braaten wrote, is for hotels to warn customers that they will be charged for property ruined during their stay.

"Explain there will be an extra charge sent to them if the room is extra messy more than normal," he wrote. "Take a picture of the room and send it along with their cleanup charge."

According to Korte and Wills, this isn't the first time a Bemidji hotel considered a pizza delivery fee. Last fall, when the Northern Inn hosted 400 teens for a youth conference, it threatened to charge $1 per box for delivery orders of several hundred pizzas coming from multiple shops. The charge, the operator claimed, would offset the cost of sales lost in its own restaurant to outside pizza sales.

The hotel never assessed the charge.

The most recent proposed charge was supposed to have taken effect on April 21, but none of the operators reported their drivers reported being charged.

Wills said his boss, the owner of the Domino's franchise where he works, was told that the local AmericInn operator has changed his mind about charging the fee. When it dawned on him that the Domino's franchisee regularly stays in his hotel when he travels to Bemidji from International Falls, Minn., he decided against it.

Whether other hoteliers are rethinking the fee isn't clear, but Tom Bolte, manager at the Comfort Inn, said hotel operators he's talked to now believe they may have addressed the problem the wrong way.

"Personally, I think we should have communicated with them (pizzeria operators) first, but we kind of jumped the gun and said, 'This is what we were going to do,' " he said. "I hope things will sort of settle down once we get a chance to talk with each other."

Hotel operators have called a May 1 meeting with pizzeria operators to address everyone's concerns. One of two pizzeria operators, who asked not to speak on the record until after that meeting, said he "wanted to give both sides a fair chance to talk."

Korte said no one at Papa John's received notice of the meeting, however, and that she'd heard at least two other pizzerias weren't notified. Still, she plans to be there to give her opinion.

"From what I understand, all the managers from the hotels want to get together with the pizza restaurants and say, 'This is what's going on, this is what's going to happen,' " she said. "That's where we hope to find out a little more reasoning behind this."

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