So you want to know how to appropriately tip valet parking workers?
Most people tip them at the conclusion of the valet parking transaction. I don't know whoever came up with that idea, but it's not the most effective use of the power of the tip.
One day I brought a car out of the garage and the customer gave me a ten dollar bill when I handed over the keys. That was certainly nice, but I was actually a little exasperated... because if I had known this lady was going to treat our valet team that well, I would have parked her car in one of our best spaces.
It would have been parked in our "cage," which is what we called our secure parking area. And I would have chosen a nice, safe parking spot with extra space around it. Instead, I parked her car upstairs, beside cars that the public had parked. There was nothing special about where I parked it. It was the usual tight parking space, where it was at higher risk for dings, dents and scratches, and where it was more at risk of a street bum breaking a window to get inside.
Tipping like that only at the end of a valet parking transaction does nothing to undo how your car was treated. It's too late.
But if you tip up-front, your generosity and consideration has the potential to influence how your car is treated.
I think most valets don't make that much, and that's why you generally see only young people doing this work—it's not a career that provides a family supporting wage, except for maybe in a few places like Las Vegas.
In my situation, when somebody left me some bills on their dash, I was interested in returning the value they gave me by being extra careful in giving them a superior parking space.
And I have the impression that "pre-tipping" or "preemptive tipping" inspired my co-workers not to be abusive with those particular vehicles.
Though pre-tipping didn't always work. Rookie valets didn't know any better. It would not influence the care.
So ideally you want only an experienced valet to move your car, not a beginner.
I recommend putting a five on your dash on arrival. That's a nice tip. Be sure the valet who is parking your car gets it. And when you leave, tip $2. Why? Merely as a courtesy.
In most cases, valet tips are pooled.
When any worker arrives or leaves their shift, a "cut" is done. The tip money each valet collected is pooled together and equally divided among all valets who are in the cut. So if you tipped a dollar, that doesn't help very much. I would say $2 is the minimally acceptable tip.
Also, not everyone tips. Valets could get stiffed 5 or 6 cars in a row. When that happens, it's really a morale destroyer.
And the valet that parked your car may no longer be working when your car is finally pulled out.
Five bucks up-front. Leave nothing of value in your car. Give them only the one key necessary to move your car, not all the keys to your life—that's dumb. (Valet workers do lose keys.)
IMPORTANT: Keep a spare key with you.
Upon receiving your vehicle back, do a complete vehicle damage audit, BEFORE handing over the departure tip.
Ensure that your car is in the same condition as when you gave it to them.
Check each rim for new scratches. (Very common valet damage.) If there is white or silver dust on a tire sidewall, that means they just grinded your rim along a curb.
Look at each corner of your car—the corners of the bumpers, the tail lenses and headlights.
Check under your front air-dam. Did they grind it on to a curb? (Very common valet damage.)
Look at the sides of your car from different angles. Look for new dings.
Check the odometer. Look for excessive mileage.
If everything is looking okay, then that is when you hand over your departure tip and make your exit.
That probably sounds like a lot of work. Unfortunately, verifying that they did their jobs perfectly is necessary. And YOU MUST find any new damage before you drive away. If you find the damage later, then it's probably too late. They will put up stiff resistance against any requests for compensation. (And they are experts at dodging and avoiding damage claims.)
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© Ed Ryder 2014