What to do after a valet service loses your keys...

People are astonished when a valet service loses their keys. They can't fathom how this could possibly happen. And they think the odds of it happening are probably similar to being struck dead by a bolt of lightning.

Well, I was a valet worker for 2 years, and I can tell you it's not as uncommon as you might think.

And it didn't just happen where I worked... this is an industry-wide thing! (Really!)

If your keys are missing, it means to me you didn't have a game plan for smartly using valet parking services. More about this later.

What to do: Take CONTROL!

This situation requires a leader. If one isn't stepping up, then this person has got to be you.

  1. Ask to have access to their key-board (where they store the keys). It's possible your keys have merely been misplaced on that board. You know what your keys look like better than anyone, so this could quickly resolve the problem.

  2. Simultaneously, the lead valet, supervisor or manager should make all valets check ALL of their pockets. If you are able to, see if the valets are checking their carabiners. They each SHOULD HAVE ONE connected to a belt loop on their pants. If nobody has a carabiner, then this is not a good sign. (I'll explain shortly.)

  3. If the keys still have not yet popped up, the manager should begin calling every valet that worked when your car was last moved by the valet service. It's possible a worker went home with your keys.

    You want fast action here. Not the sight of dazed and confused people. They need to rally: "Let's go!"

    (If this valet service has the latest technology, they might be able to look-up which driver last moved your car. This would be helpful.)

    If the keys are still not appearing, then the situation is getting DIRE.

  4. EVERY CAR in the valet lot MUST be checked for your missing keys. This is a big pain in the ass, so they may resist doing this. Tell them it's got to be done and it's got to be done FAST! They should begin with YOUR CAR.

    You want the manager and other valets heading to the parking lot or garage immediately, (with flashlights if conditions are dark), to look in the parked cars for your keys.

    You want to see URGENCY, valets running. Not taking a casual stroll to the garage.

    If their initial effort is not successful, then tell them they need to open every car and search every car until they find your keys. This could mean that everybody grabs 6 keys at a time and runs to the garage to do this more thorough search.

    As they search, it's possible they might find your keys on the ground. But it is more likely the keys have been left inside of another customer's car. This can happen when the valet is taking your car to the garage and then immediately bringing a car out of the garage for a departing guest. In this situation, after parking your car, the valet should have placed your keys on his carabiner (care - a- beener). It's possible though that instead of taking that precaution, he just left them on the passenger seat of the other car and then forgot to take those keys with him when he turned over the departing car to the departing valet customer.

    So in this situation, your keys could be on the move in somebody else's car! Those keys could already be 100 miles away.

    And if the keys are discovered, that car owner may not realize where the keys came from, or care.

    (Another possibility is your keys may have gotten stuck to somebody else's set of keys. And the other car owner has not yet realized they are in possession of extra keys.)

  5. By this point, with the inconvenience and aggravation caused to you, all of your parking fees should be waived. If the keys remain missing, then it is time for the valet service and its client to share in the pain. You prepare a list of demands.

    I was a hotel valet. This is what I would do if the incident occurred at a hotel:

    First, get the business card of the valet manager and summon the hotel manager. You want to put pressure on the hotel manager (in a civilized way. Being an asshole probably won't get you as far. A rude, nasty approach has the risk of backfiring.)

    You explain that the hotel's valet service has fucked your whole day up, and now the hotel needs to make it right.

    You explain that you will require compensation to replace every lost key. If these lost keys include your home key, then this might include the cost of having your house re-keyed.

    You also explain that you require additional compensation for the enormous aggravation and inconvenience wreaked upon you. What to ask for is up to you. If you just spent 3 days at the hotel, you could ask for the entire cost of your stay refunded, along with a free 3 day stay of similar quality to be used by you in the future.

    You stress that all expenses connected to this fiasco will be promptly reimbursed by the hotel. If they say the valet service is a third party company and that you are to deal with them about reimbursement, you say in a civilized way "I don't care about your business arrangements. This is your hotel. You are in charge. And you are going to take care of it."

    If you need to go somewhere, inquire if the hotel has a house car, and if so, explain that you need their driver to take you where you need to go.

    If there is no house car, then all taxi or Uber expenses should be paid for by the hotel.


    Ask for all that you can think of and hold firm.

    They have to make it right.

You should have a game plan when valet parking. I advocate three things when it comes to key control:

  • Give the valet service only the ONE key necessary to operate the car. You should never give them the keys to your life.

  • Keep a spare car key with you for just in case.

  • Use a "Valet Client Photo ID Card." See below.

A "Valet Client Photo ID Card" can save you from a lost key fiasco.

A "Valet Client Photo ID Card" can save you from a lost key fiasco.

Click image above for more information about using "Valet Client ID Cards."

Click image above for more information about using "Valet Client ID Cards."

Attaching a Valet Client ID Card to your car key is the SIMPLEST, SMARTEST thing you can do to defend your car against sloppy valet work. 

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