What to do when valet parking...

A lot of people think they know how to valet park, but they don't. Here is how you should handle the situation.

A lot of people think they know how to valet park, but they don't. Here is how you should handle the situation.

99.9% of people don't know how to valet park... at least not in a way that is smart and sophisticated.


Remove all items of value from the vehicle BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME. If there is anything that you don't want to lose, take it out. Take out your spare change, your Chap Stick, your potato chips, your Red Bull, your sunglasses, your chewing tobacco, your air freshener, and especially anything that has real value. Because there are valets who will take  *A N Y T H I N G!*  No kidding...

Besides losing these items, valets have taken handguns, weed, iPads, phones, phone chargers, cameras, jackets, jewelry, gift cards, Christmas gifts, cash! I am telling you... THEY WILL ROB YOU! I hate to say it, but a lot of scumbags are employed in this industry.

Take everything out that has value EXCEPT a flashlight. If you are valet parking at night, you will need that. Stash it somewhere in the car.

STEP 2 - Additional Preparations

  1. Have a preemptive tip ready to go. You're going to put that on the dash, in front of the steering wheel.

  2. Also, REMOVE THE CAR KEY FROM YOUR KEY RING. You definitely don't want to give a valet service the keys to your life... BECAUSE THEY LOSE KEYS! (For real!) It happens all the time. ALL THE TIME. Every day! Somewhere! So also...

  3. BRING A SPARE KEY WITH YOU and keep it separate from the key you give the valet service.

  4. Be sure you have a few extra bills to leave as a departure tip.

  5. And by all means, please make sure your car is not disgusting. A lot of people have disgusting interiors that they never clean. Don't be that person.

Yes, that's right... you tip on the way in AND on the way out. The bulk of your tip money is deployed when you arrive. This is how you influence the care your car is about to receive. Most people don't do this. They tip at the end, like most other people do.


That's just dumb.

It does nothing to influence how your car is treated. 

When somebody had the consideration to tip me up-front, I tried to return the value by parking their car in a better, safer spot that had more space around it.

Yes, tipping in advance absolutely did make a difference! And I often saved the primo spots for the most generous of these tippers.

If you give a nice tip only at the end, it's just a poor use of the power of tipping.

*The only time that tipping ONLY on departure — is appropriate — is when you are a regular customer. 

Want to be seen as a boss?

Slide the valet a twenty and tell 'em you want it left up-front.


  • Lower chance of damage or other monkey business.

  • No chance for joyriding.

  • They are better able to keep an eye on it.

  • Fast exit for you.

There should be no further obligation, no other tipping or parking fee required. (In a lot of places.)

But if you're not going that route, or if the up-front spaces are taken, plop 2 quarters in your cup-holder (out of view of the valet). Then place your preemptive tip on the dash in front of the steering wheel.

Your tip should be paper currency, not coins. Coins are very, very uncool in this situation. (Valets generally don't want to run around with coins in their pockets.)

Roll-up all the windows except the drivers side. Keep that window down, weather permitting.

Lock all doors except the driver's door. (Minimizes chances they will mistakenly leave the car unsecure in the garage or parking lot.) 

Turn off the radio.

Turn the fan all the way down on your air conditioner or heater. (To minimize noise. The valet SHOULD operate the car with the absolute minimum in distractions.)

Whip out your smartphone, and shoot a photo or video (preferable) of your odometer and fuel level. Then aim it into your cup-holder. That's your integrity test. 

Turn the car off.

Aim your smartphone camera at your valet's face and name tag. If there is no uniform or name tag, that's an issue. Be careful. Because people do pose as valets to steal cars. You need to have a high degree of certainty you are dealing with a legitimate valet. If you don't get that feeling, abort. Get back in your car and leave. 

Okay, you have stepped out of the car. The engine is off. And the valet is there. Don't give your key yet. Hold it in your hand as you videotape the condition of your car.

By you holding the key in your hand with the engine off, you are exerting control over this arena. Nobody can hop in the driver's seat and peel out with it, which does happen! (A valet ramp is an easy place for foolish criminals to steal a car.)

Go to each wheel and get a close-up of your rims. Rim scratches are probably the most common type of valet damage. Go to each rim and record. Then record all areas of the car body in the vicinity. 

Take special care to record the condition of your front air dam area, underneath the front bumper, because driving cars over curbs and scraping these areas up is a definite possibility.

Record all 4 corners, especially the rear bumper area.

Alright. You have documented the car's condition. Put the phone away, (but of course don't leave it in the car!)

Ask the valet about the cost and procedures for summoning the car, so it is clear to you. Each valet operation is unique with unique operational complexities. You're not being a dummy to get informed here.

Tell the valet that "it's recording." And say it would be best if you guys are extra careful with it. This will make them think that you have some kind of on-board video surveillance system. 

"By the way, I left that tip on the dash for whoever is parking this."

Hand over THE ONE KEY NECESSARY TO OPERATE THE CAR, not all of your keys, and TAKE THE CLAIM TICKET. Put it in your pocket. DO NOT LOSE IT! If you lose it, whoever finds it could use it to claim your car! And you'll be screwed! No kidding!

I do recommend taking an extra security precaution. See that graphic to the right about "Codeword Cards?" This would "up" your defense. Download that material and make yourself a tag before leaving home. This tag attached to the one key you give them will make it crystal clear you are no ordinary valet customer. Making them a little wary of you is not a bad thing here.

Next Step

Keep your fingers crossed that this spin at valet parking roulette goes your way. And try to enjoy yourself, wherever you are.

Getting The Car Back

If there is a number for you to call to have your car ready and waiting for you, call it. Tell them you want it ready for you in 10 minutes, or whatever. But be sure to be timely yourself, because if you take too long to show-up, they might re-park your car, and that's another spin at valet parking roulette, where your chances increase for damage. You don't want that!

Okay, you arrive. If there is a cashier, pay the bill and turn your smartphone video camera on. Go to the car and straight to your cup-holder. Let's see if the two quarters are still there. 

Fifty percent chance your quarters are missing!

If they are gone, put the departure tip back in your pocket and have the valet manager summoned.

While that is happening, go over every inch of your car, starting with the rims. If you see silvery dust on a tire sidewall, your wheel just got grinded.

Look for more damage. Use your flashlight if it is dark. Take your time, even if the valet manager is now standing there watching you. It's a very important step that you complete your vehicle damage audit BEFORE YOU LEAVE.

If you don't find the damage before you leave, you are in a very weak position to get a resolution from them. Take the vehicle damage audit seriously.

If you find no new damage, good!

But there is still the issue of the missing quarters.

Inform the valet manager that a thief is among their ranks and you have the proof. Show the before and after video you shot of the cup-holder. Then demand a refund of your parking fee and a return of your 50 cents. It's a cheap price for them to pay for this very authentic, very credible revelation about a serious honesty problem they have.  

Encountering resistance? Are you being scoffed at? Tell the manager that was tooth fairy money for your kid tonight, not valet money, or that you set it aside for a toll, or that you were saving those specific coins for your coin collection, or your son's collection. Make it seem like it wasn't just 50 cents, but something that was important to you.

Get your money and parking fee back. Make sure you have your key back in your hand. Inspect it for damage or scratches (from being dropped or stepped on). Verify that nothing else inside the car is amiss. (Like no torn or scratched leather seat from a pen being in a valet's back pocket.)

Once you are satisfied, leave. 

That's how you valet park!

You do it with strength, not with weakness.

What do you think? Too extreme? In my opinion, this is what you have to do. If you think otherwise, let me know in the comments below.