Valet parking is a parking service offered by some restaurants, stores, and other businesses particularly in North America. In contrast to "self-parking", where customers find parking on their own, customers' vehicles are parked for them by a person called a valet. This service either requires a fee to be paid by the customer or is offered free of charge by the establishment.
A valet is usually an employee of the establishment, or an employee of a third party valet service. When there is a fee it is usually either a flat amount or a fee based on how long the car is parked. It is customary to tip
the valet who actually parks the car. However if the establishment does not have a charge as long as you use their facilities it is customary to tip at least $7.00 although the average tip is between $2.00 & $3.00.
Valet parking is most often offered (and is most useful) in urban areas, where parking is scarce, though some upscale businesses offer valet parking as an optional service even though self-parking may be readily available. For example, in wealthy suburban areas like California's Silicon Valley, some hospitals (like Stanford University Medical Center) offer valet parking for the convenience of patients and their visitors. On the other hand, where parking is not scarce, such as on the Las Vegas Strip, it is used as a convenience to patrons. Some hospitals, like the Yale-affiliated Greenwich Hospital (Connecticut) on Connecticut's Golden Coast, have such limited space for parking that the emergency room is valet parking only (to fit as many cars in as possible; see Efficiency, below).
Some cars come with an additional key known as a valet key that starts the ignition and opens the drivers side door but prevents the valet from gaining access to valuables that are located in the trunk or the glove box.
An advantage of valet parking is that it is possible to park more cars into the same space, in what is generally known as "stack parking." The reason is that the valet holds all the keys and is able to park the cars two or more deep, because he can move cars out of the way to free a blocked-in car.
Another type of stacking is what's called lane stacking. This is useful for events where guests arrive roughly simultaneously, say in the case of a wedding reception. The point of this procedure is to keep the lane (or lanes) of incoming traffic flowing forward so that guests are spared a long wait time for valet service. This is usually accomplished by designating one or two of the valets to be "stackers", who simply "push" the cars up fifty feet or so and prepare it for a quick "take-away" for a returning valet to park. The process is then repeated until all cars are parked, utilizing as much lane space as possible, meanwhile keeping the lanes moving.
An additional advantage of valet parking, aside from stacking, is that valets can park cars closer and straighter than some customers may park. This will save them space in the parking lot or garage, and prevent the inconvenience of going to different floors by cramming everything in.
Last but not least, an efficient valet service will have implemented (or at least prepared) a system to handle the expected number of cars and guests. This includes, but is not limited to, any of the following: designated greeters, stackers, and parkers, a system for marking car locations, and sometimes even providing shuttle service for valets at large venues in order to expidite car return times at the end of the event.
The whole basis behind valet parking is the luxury of the service provided. Most locations and events that provide valet parking do so to provide a higher level of service. This includes but is not limited to bring the car up front, having the doors opened for the guest, and in some cases extra services which include cleaning and detailing of the vehicle.
Work Life of a Valet
As described above, there are several different venues of Valet Parking Attendant use. Here are their descriptions:
- Major Event: These Valets are usually hired for just the evening and have assigned roles for efficiency. Parking for the customer's vehicle may be at an off site location that can handle many cars ranging from a dirt field to a multi-story parking lot, it may also be the streets lining the entrance or exit of the pickup location. At a wedding the cars may be stacked orderly to form a hierarchy of the importance of the visitors. At a middle-eastern Oil Company executive party the vehicles may be stacked in the order of the importance of the executives of the company.
- Restaurant or Bar: In this setting, parking is usually in the establishment's own lot, but may also be a blocked-off section of a nearby parking house or multilayer lot. Often a dozen spots in front will be reserved for the big spenders or frequent visitors. When the restaurant is not busy, the nicest, most unusual or newest vehicles will be parked in front of the restaurant. This can be a sales & marketing sticking point. Restaurants trying to attract the tourism crowd may park rental vehicles or common vehicles in front. Expensive restaurants looking to attract less frugal customers may park all expensive cars in front, even if owned by the restaurant employees or owners.
- Bar or crowded urban setting: Here, space is a premium, yet the cars on the street may have a huge bearing on the clientele inside. Cars parked on the street here will generally be owned by the famous frequent visitors, cars with unique plates designating them "MR T"; "OPEC 1"; "SPEARS" for example. See explanation below for more about Shenanigans.
- Hotel: Hotels have all types mentioned above. Lots, multi-layer lots, parking houses, hydraulic structures, parking in front, parking in back, shuttles for car owners, shuttles for Valets and more. The biggest difference between Hotels and all other types is the COST. Hotels usually charge double or more for Valet parking when compared to bars, hotels, restaurants or major events. Usually this is because of decreased competition and the need for overnight parking.
Valet Parking waiting stations, found usually on the sidewalk or curb in urban areas, directly in front of bars or restaurants, will often use the available parking on the street as "extra-fee" parking. To keep the vehicles owned by famous individuals such as sports stars, actors and actresses, local officials or establishment owners (and his friends), the Valet service attendants and/or drivers will park these vehicles in short-term or prohibited parking spots on the street. It is common to find expensive vehicles directly in front of a popular bar or restaurant for hours or an entire evening, even though the parking space used is a 20-minute maximum spot, a red zone, loading zone or other similar parking spot that can be easily manipulated by shuffling vehicles after the Meter maid
makes his chalking of the car tires. Handicapped
Parking spots are infrequently used due to the very high penalty associated.
Parking in these special parking spots is usually obtained by the Valet attendants through use of cones or the employee's car. An attendant will park his vehicle in the time-limited spot early in the evening. As the evening runs on, a local baseball player or similar frequent visitor will drive up and present a $50 or higher bill and ask for the car to be parked "up front". Upon recovery, the vehicle owner may present an additional $50 or $100 to have his keys back. He will then simply walk to his car with date(s). Sometimes the owner may ask for his car to be prepped with a certain song playing upon recovery, in which case the establishment manager will present the owner's ticket before the vehicle owner leaves the establishment. The car will simply be started and warmed up for an even higher monetary tip.
Most career Valet parking attendants are college-age, around 18-24 years of age, usually male. Many Valet parking attendants at the most influential establishments are much older, even as old as 50. Administrative attendants at parking lots or cashier centers may drive a car from time to time. These attendants are in all ages.
Turnover is usually 2-3 months, but much longer among the older employee population. An end is brought quickly to a Valet attendant's career after an accident at one company (but then started easily at another competing company). Other frequent reasons for employment termination are:
- Driving infractions (moving violation) - surprisingly unknown to the employer until a driver's license is revoked.
- Crashes, accidents, damage to vehicles
- Habitual lateness or irresponsibility
- Drug use, alcohol abuse