Magazine

Valet Parking Only for the Rich? Not Any More

By John Van Horn

The fellow at the party told us that valet parking was for rich folks who drove Beemers and Mercedes. The regular guy should park his own car. We knew better.
Parking Today took a look at valet parking, and the results were not surprising to us but may shock a few.
Previously, it was truly a “non-egalitarian” feature due primarily to the price point differential between regular parking pricing and the cost of valet parking. It was “connected” with five-star hotels and restaurants. Valets wore red jackets and white gloves.
Oh, these places exist, but now valet parking has become more of a necessity in many businesses. Shopping centers and congested neighborhoods use valets to help increase the availability of parking where it’s limited. (After all, valets can stack park and often double the capacity of parking areas.)
On-street parking, where valet stations are located in every block or so, allow people to use them no matter where they are shopping. In some neighborhoods, where shops, clubs and bars have high traffic in the evenings, this service is invaluable.
Now, valet parking is popping up in hospitals where often complimentary service is offered to visitors and patients. Airports are adding the feature to both on- and off-airport locations.
Self-parking prices are going up, and valet prices aren’t rising nearly as fast. The differential between the two can be as little as two or three dollars. Many people who passed on using the valet service are now saying “why not?”
Tony Policella, owner of Valet Parking Service in Los Angeles, says the valets set the “tone” of the venue. A case in point was the press event for the release of the new Microsoft Xbox held in June at the USC campus in LA. PT wondered why the organizers didn’t just let people park their own cars and walk across the street.
“We parked 400 cars; we had 80 valets on hand,” Policella said. “But it was a different kind of crowd. Most were either media types with cameras and tripods, or techno nerds who came in limos but were wearing T-shirts and torn Levis. Most of the media seldom use valet. Would the fact that they did (this time) perhaps make them feel a tad better about the product being introduced?”
As for universities using valet parking, one school told us they thought it was not egalitarian enough for the students on their campus. Another disagreed and said that the service provided, at a very low cost, made the environment more friendly and conducive to the business of learning.
“It is invaluable to campus visitors who are not familiar with the parking structures on the campus and upon finding (or being directed to) the parking structure, have to navigate, usually to the least convenient space remaining.”
Parking Today was told that valet parking is green. Sigh, isn’t everything. The argument – and it has some validity – is that if you drive around at low speeds (looking for a parking space), your car is at its most inefficient. If a valet parks the car, it’s driven to the closest spot available. Saves time and reduces your carbon footprint.
When hiring a valet company, we learned the customer will find their labor costs are much less than keeping the service in-house. Their liability is reduced; and training and staffing are handled.
One company told us that the valet contractor has a vested interest in doing a good job. If hotel staff is running the parking, it can lose sight of the little things that keep the front door running properly. The valet contractor is motivated to do a great job. He knows that if he fails, he’s losing an entire contract, and perhaps a referral.
Training valets is job one. Safety is most important; constantly review driving habits. One company gives a $25 gas card to each member of a valet team if they go a month without an accident of any kind.
Another thing we heard was that it is extremely important to inspect the vehicle before taking possession. Ensure that any dings, scratches or other damage is pointed out to the customer and noted. This makes for a happy customer, and insurance broker.
Also, be concerned about the valet’s individual safety. They must take no risks. PT watched the CEO of a valet company take a cone and cover a dangerous electrical outlet that was near where the valets had to walk. He didn’t ask someone else to do it; he did it himself. Some of the valets noticed. It made a difference.
Recognize when your valet people do something right, as well as correct when they make mistakes, PT was told.
Remember that valets are driving high-powered machines in confined spaces filled with people who aren’t looking at what is going on. Valets must be aware of their surroundings at all times.
Valets get a bad rap. Of course, there are problems, but daily across the country there are thousands of dedicated professional valets who have high-level skills, take care of their customers and have no accidents.
At one time, valets were seen at tony restaurants and top-end hotels. Today, you see them everywhere, on-street, at the mall, at theaters, and even at the Pink’s hot dog stand in Hollywood.
Valets just for the rich? Not any more.

Sidebar:
Checklist for hiring a valet company:
• Know your vendor. Ask about its background.
• Check references.
• Create a specification that the company has to meet.
• Look into why there is such a wide variety in pricing – there is a reason.
• Go to the company’s office and meet the people who work there. Find out what they do.
• The last one is good for both valet company and customer. It provides a feeling of pride on the part of the employees who spoke to the potential customer. “I helped get this account, and I want to be sure they get the best service.” A plus for both.

Article Abstract from July, 2009




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