It's possible to make decent money...
Typically, valets are not well-paid. In 19 states, the hourly wage can be as low as $2.13 per hour.
I worked as a valet at a fancy hotel. My pay was just $3.83 per hour. And supervisors made an extra two or three per hour. If you are offered a good wage, the reason might be because the tip income is weak.
Gratuities matter a lot in this business.
You will probably find that your tip income has a roller coaster element to it.
There are great days, so-so days, and terrible days. Over the course of your work week, it all averages out to a certain hourly rate.
(The earnings figures above include my hourly wage of $3.83 per hour.)
In 2012, my average hourly earnings was $13.50. During my first 2 days on the job, I basically held the front door open for guests. I also began to do vehicle damage assessments (more about this later). And by day 3 I finally began to move cars.
My first 3 days were done at a training wage of $7.25 per hour. I was not a participant in "the cut."
Where I worked, we pooled our tips so that each valet worker had the best chance of making a fair day's pay. We all relied on each other being completely forthcoming with the tips they received.
Whenever there was a shift change, we always did "a cut" where the tip money was collected and then divided equally.
Managers are not permitted to participate in the cut (by law). Though supervisors would be included.
There is definitely a learning curve to this business. It may look easy, but when you're new, it isn't easy at all.
While I was still getting up-to-speed, I wasn't given many hours. And they were scheduling me for too many crappy hours. It was really getting frustrating.
My income was so lousy that I began looking for another job.
But then suddenly the doldrums of August ended and the hotel started to rock.
I also had developed greater competency at this, which meant that the manager was more willing to gamble on lighter staffing when I worked. (Fewer valets on-the-clock means more tip money.)
As I continued to prove myself with running hard, not making mistakes, giving the guests excellent service, getting along well with my co-workers, and always showing up on time for work, I began to be rewarded with more of the money shifts.
And as I gained experience, I got better at collecting gratuities.
You can see I went from an average of $13.50 an hour in 2012 to $14.85 an hour in 2013 to $15.28 in 2014.
These Things Will Impact Whether You Make Decent Money Or Not...
The venue. If you get hired at a place that doesn't have a good flow of business, it's going to suck.
Whether the manager is experienced or inexperienced. Inexperienced managers are more likely to over-staff their shifts. If it turns out the heavy staffing is needed, then the manager just did a fine job of covering his ass. But if business is weak, people will be asked to volunteer to go home early.
A manager might also over-staff because of reliability issues. If your co-workers keep showing up late or calling out sick at the last minute, then that trend will force the manager to over-staff.
It is not in your best interests when a manager is over-staffing the shifts.
(In these situations, I recommend you volunteer to STAY. Let the weak leave. After they are gone, then you've got a shot at making your money for the day. There were many times I stayed and let others jump at the opportunity to leave... and I ended up making good money.)
The Shift. If there is a big wedding and 150 cars are coming in between 4 to 6 pm and you are scheduled to work from Noon till 8pm, guess what? You are going to run your ass off and make no money. Because usually people tip only when they are leaving. If that party doesn't wind down till 10pm or so, the guys working the 3 to 11pm shift will be the ones making all the money.
So the trick is to gain competency quickly, prove your reliability and skills, and get your boss to like you, so that you will be more likely to be given the money shifts.
The honesty of your co-workers. If somebody is engaging in tip-sharing fraud, by keeping some of their tips and not putting them into the cut, this affects what you make. This is a toxic thing that can spread. People can sniff out a cheater. It's best to always be honest.
If somebody gives you a twenty, cough it up when it comes time to do the cut. They will see you are treating your co-workers right, and in return, they will be more likely to treat YOU right.
If you do get caught scamming, it could cost you your job. Or everyone might simply make it known that they don't want to work with you anymore.
The concern your manager has for your financial success. Your account manager really has a lot of power in how much you make. If you are getting the vibe that their success is all that matters, then that might not be the best boss for you to have. You need a boss that feels some responsibility for the success of his or her underlings. Somebody like that is more than a manager — they are a leader, and that makes them a great person to work for and learn from.
The relationship you have with your account manager. It's important that you cultivate a good working relationship with your boss. You do this by:
showing up for work early,
having a neatly pressed uniform and running shoes that meet their specs,
being clean shaven, always (if you're a guy),
never calling out sick,
being eager to serve — with a smile,
demonstrating that you are eager to improve and eager to do the job well.
Your boss doesn't want losers. Your boss isn't interested in being a baby sitter. Instead, your boss wants people who will just handle it.
The boss simply wants to suddenly realize one day "I KNEW I was right in hiring that guy! I knew it!"
You get your job off on the right foot like that, and you will be viewed as management potential from early on.
If you start whining and complaining, if you are not running to get cars and instead take casual strolls to the garage, if you are not eager to open car doors for people, if you aren't smiling to customers and aren't making them feel comfortable, welcomed and appreciated, then your status in the eyes of the boss will sink downward. And when it comes time to make the next work schedule, the boss is going to be like:
"You know what... I'm giving this lazy mother fucker Sunday night and Monday night. And that's it. Maybe he will quit on his own instead of me firing him."
(Where I worked, those were usually the shittiest hours of the week.)
This is what happens when the boss is not pleased with your work performance: you get shitty hours. When you request a certain night off, you get scheduled to work that night. When you are late, it's a write-up. Any screw-up becomes a write-up. They build-up a strong case to fire you while giving you subtle encouragement to just quit, because firing is risky. They consider it much better and safer if you just quit. Though if you give them a strong reason, you can be fired on the spot.
The bottom line is: you are going to make more money if the boss likes and appreciates you.
Tip pooling is a good thing. It inspires everyone to work as a team.
Where I worked, there were MANY TIMES when the compensation was simply not fair. (It sucks when you make peanuts.)
I proposed that all tips for the entire week be collected, and then divided equally among each valet, depending upon the amount of hours they worked. This would have made the hourly rate more predictable. And it would have been easier to get people to work during the crappy shifts.
Unfortunately, no manager had the balls or foresight to give it a try. But some valet companies do have this system in place. Ameripark appears to be one of them.
The problem with this style of weekly tip pooling is it adds to the management burden. It is an additional chore management must do! And unfortunately it also creates an opportunity for a dishonest manager to take a piece of the action. So any valet operation that does weekly tip disbursements like this needs to have a lot of transparency — so that it is clear no money from the cut is disappearing.
At valet locations where there is no cut and it is every man for himself, these likely will be operations with a higher hourly wage and a lower expectation of receiving tips from their customers.
The Health Of Your Feet
This is critical. If your feet hurt you, you can't work.
You MUST get the most comfortable running shoes possible. Make certain they fit perfectly... because you will be doing a lot of running in this job.
BEFORE you buy your running shoes/sneakers, make sure you understand the requirements your company has. For example, the valet company may require that your running shoes be all-black with black soles.
If you buy the wrong color sneakers, you're going to have to go shoe shopping again.
It is more important that your footwear be comfortable rather than look good.
One day I had new sneakers on. It turned out I laced them too tight. The top of one of my feet suddenly began to hurt so bad that I simply could not run anymore. That cost me lost income while that foot healed.
(It's worth it to spend extra money to get yourself the right footwear.)
Expect that you will need to buy new sneaks in 60 to 90 days. If your feet begin to hurt, don't play around. Get rid of those shoes fast and buy new shoes.
You will find that some of your co-workers have chronic foot pain. They fucked up and didn't understand how important it was to take good care of their feet. Some of them might have plantar fasciitis. This is a condition you can get after the arch support in your shoes breaks down. It can take a year or longer to heal, and from what I have observed, it brings real difficulties to people who suffer from this condition.
One of my former co-workers had the condition for 4 years. He finally quit. He just couldn't deal with the pain any longer.
The risk you have of getting plantar fasciitis as a result of your valet work IS REAL.
Pay attention. These are words of wisdom here. You don't want to exit your valet job and still months or even years later regretting that you didn't ward off this condition when you had the chance.
Look it up on Google. See what people tweet about it. Learn more about it. Then make sure... as soon as your feet begin to hurt, you switch over to new shoes. Don't keep running and just dealing with the pain because you're a stubborn asshole or too cheap to go shoe shopping. That would be a big mistake.
I would also recommend to you that you bring an extra pair of shoes and extra socks with you to work, especially on rainy days. (Keep them in your car.)
If your feet get wet, don't let them stay wet for long. That's how you get fungus. Like athletes foot or toe nail fungus.
I can tell you from my own experience, toe nail fungus is difficult to get rid of. I've had it for maybe 4 years!
I used all kinds of over-the-counter stuff. That shit didn't work. And the fungus even spread to other toenails! Finally I went to a foot doctor and got my nails lasered. Well, it's all gone except for this one tiny area. I see a foot doctor every 9 weeks. I have been seeing this doctor for more than 2 years so far.
That toe nail fungus happened because I dropped something heavy on my foot and it damaged the nail. I also was working in very wet conditions. That's all it took.
Another recommendation: don't walk anywhere with bare feet. Always at least wear flipflops, especially in a locker room, at a pool, in a hotel room, in a hotel bathroom. Because you can pick up a plantar wart.
I think I got mine at a hotel in Vermont. Of course, I didn't notice the thing until it had grown and begun to spread. They are gross. They can make walking and running painful. And they are also difficult to get rid of. It cost me more than $2000 and 2 years to finally get rid of mine. Getting plantar warts lasered off your feet hurts, man! Those foot doctor visits were $175 pain sessions.
Today, I don't go anywhere without something covering my feet.
An additional precaution you can take is to spray a disinfectant in your shoes from time to time, like Lysol. That would be smart.
Some valet positions have significantly greater income potential.
Where I worked we had "doormen." Unfortunately, they worked separately from us, and they had control of the driveway. (In the business, the driveway might also be called "the ramp.") This control meant that if somebody offered them a twenty to "keep it up front," that nice bit of currency went solely in their pockets. It wasn't shared with the valet team.
They also used special doorman whistles (you can get them on Amazon) and summoned taxis, and helped people with their bags. Those guys made way more than us. If we worked together on the same team, it would have made a huge difference for us.
If you can get in on a valet team that also shares in the doorman and bellman action, that could be a really good gig!
I have also heard that SOME valets in Las Vegas do very well.
Expect ups and downs.
Expect to get "stiffed."
It's just the nature of the business. There are peaks and valleys in the volumes of business. Sometimes it seems like the National Association of the Cheapskates of America are holding their annual meeting at your venue. Other times you get a generous crowd and everybody is handing out fives.
Stiffs DO happen — (a lot). Most of the workers in this business are young men, and they get annoyed and pissed off easily. My advice to you is to rise above it. Just let it go. Don't go around punching the walls. It does no good. Just forget about it. Maybe the next car will make up for that stiff. You might get several cars in a row that stiff you. Streaks like that happen. Just accept it as being part of the business, and get on with doing your job and hustling up the tips.
But don't belittle the customer for not tipping.
Don't say "Hey, where's my tip?!"
Don't say anything like that.
You can stand there by the car and just wait. Your presence might remind them to open up their wallet. But don't do anything to insult that customer. Don't do anything to degrade their valet experience with you. Don't do anything that lowers you to their level.
No tip = no class.
That's what they are if they fail to tip. Unfortunately, a lot of people are not savvy about tipping (especially foreigners). They think that if their valet parking costs $49, then they don't have to tip, because the valets are making enough money. Ha!
I also recommend not to pre-judge somebody by the type of car they have, or by their appearance.
I've been stiffed by people driving high value cars ($100,000+) and I have been lavishly tipped by people in absolute junkers.
I think sometimes people are embarrassed with having an old, junky car... so they over-compensate for that by passing out generous gratuities.
And with customer types, I have encountered nuns and priests and thought to myself "Oh boy... well maybe I'll get a dollar..." And they end up giving me a ten! In fact, I can't ever remember any church person like that giving me a cheap tip. Again and again, they showed uncommon generosity to me.
People can surprise you in positive ways. So give it everything you've got each time.
Sometimes you get a magic moment.
The shift could be going terribly and then all of a sudden somebody hands you a fifty, and it turns your entire shift around. Those magic moments can happen at ANY time.
When everybody else is moping around and complaining because they are not making any money, try persuading the manager to send some people home, since they're not needed. But you stay! Because sometimes the magic moments happen right after the weak have volunteered to go home.
Declaring your tip income.
Your tips are not tax free money.
Paying taxes is a part of the deal in living here. It's your patriotic duty. It's your obligation.
But many valets don't see it that way. They think it's stupid to declare anything but the minimum.
And valet parking businesses actually rely on their employees under-reporting their income!
Because the less you declare, the lower their payroll taxes will be.
You pay 7.65% of your income for Social Security and Medicare AND your employer pays an additional 7.65%. That is 15.3% all together.
So when you declare more of your tip income, it helps to fund your Social Security retirement benefit, and your employer is making a larger contribution towards it.
For every penny of tip income you declare, your employer's expenses for the unemployment compensation tax go up, along with their workers compensation insurance premium.
You can go to jail for willful tax evasion. When I was in college, my accounting professor told me you could expect to do 22 months for this crime — if they come after you.
It's really an industry-wide problem... where the business model of valet companies relies on their employees to under-report so that the company's profits will be higher.
They have the sophistication to know that their employees could do serious jail time and be financially ruined with fines, penalties and legal fees. Yet they keep their mouths shut.
There are numerous good, solid reasons why you should declare every penny of tip income.
You are getting credit for contributing more to your Social Security retirement benefit.
If you get hurt on the job, which is absolutely possible, your weekly workers compensation check will be directly related to how much the records show that you earn.
If your employer loses the account, if a catastrophic crash by a valet forces the loss of the account or forces the valet company into a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, or if you lose your job for no good reason... your unemployment compensation benefit will be directly related to how much the records show that you earned.
So by declaring your full income, you set yourself up for better compensation if you get hurt or lose your job through no fault of your own.
When you declare everything, it helps a lot when applying for credit. Whether you are applying for a car loan or seek to rent an apartment, having paycheck stubs that show what you really earn can make the difference between getting a yes or being denied.
You have no worries about being audited and having your ass put in a vice by the tax authorities. For the little bit of money you might save by not declaring all of your income, I think the potential punishment and stress is not worth it.
Declaring all of your income shows your manager that you are a straight shooter. Top managers at your company probably won't like it, but being honest like that makes a statement about your principles.
Finally, if something happens where the valet company is firing you for a reason that you don't think is fair or right, you could press them for severance pay based upon several things, including your length of employment. For example, you could go for 3 months of severance pay based upon your declared average monthly earnings.
There could one day be a big crackdown on this industry for widespread income tax evasion facilitated by valet companies. Three years after you quit, you could suddenly be dragged in for an audit. If they see that you are clean, the audit will probably stop there. But if they see that you were a cheater, the scope of their investigation against you could expand to more of your tax years.
In my opinion, it just isn't worth it.
So right from the beginning buy yourself a college-ruled notebook and make it your tip journal. Or, download my tip journal forms:
With the forms, use a 3 hole punch and keep them in a neat binder. You will be completely organized and will know at all times exactly what you are making and how much you have made weekly, monthly, yearly.
Not one valet I worked with did this.
(This is good, useful data. And it is a way to ensure the payroll department is accounting properly for your wages and earnings.)
Part 2 of the Top Valet Online Training Course features a "new hire training guide" I authored for the valet operation of one particular hotel. Check it out!