What to do when valet steals items from your car.

Unfortunately, there are valets who will steal anything... your music cds, your chewing gum, your phone charger, your iPad, jacket, sunglasses, umbrella, gun, weed, spare change in the cup-holder... the list goes on and on. 

So what do you do when theft has occurred while your vehicle was in the care of a valet service?

First, you never should have left any valuables in the car. Next time, empty the car of valuables before you valet it... because one of the top complaints about valet services is theft of property. It's a widespread problem.

Okay, your position is stronger if you discover the theft before you drive away. (And your case will be much stronger if you shot some video of your vehicle's contents immediately prior to handing it over to the valet.)

Do an inventory check of the things you managed to leave in the car. If something is missing, call over the valet that brought your car out. 

Say something like: "I'm missing something... I'd like to have it back."

See what the reaction is.

This reaction could help you determine if you are in the presence of the guilty party.

"Do you have any idea what could have happened to it?"

The valet might confess that the car was left unlocked or that a window was down. This would be strong leverage against the valet company.

Or the valet might point the blame at a co-worker. Who knows?

Get your smartphone out and snap a shot of this valet's face and name tag.

"I need to speak to your manager right now."

If you are told there is no manager present, then tell the valet to get this manager on the phone. And tell that manager his/her presence is required immediately.

You seek a resolution. It will either be the return of your missing item, or compensation.

A story that might help: One time I presented a car.... The customer was very nice, tipped me $5, and he was on his way. Ten or fifteen minutes later I found sunglasses on the floor of the garage in the same area where that car had been parked.

The car had been tightly parked near another car, and since it was a Porsche 911, it was low to the ground. I had a very difficult time maneuvering my 6' 2" body into the driver's seat. While I struggled to get into the Porsche, I must have somehow knocked the sunglasses out of the car.

Perhaps a similar situation has happened with your missing item?

You could ask the valet to check in the garage to see if your missing item somehow fell out.

If this item is in the valet's pocket, this might be his/her chance to wiggle out of the hot seat. Let them go there by themselves.

You want to see running. You want to see fast action. Not a casual stroll. If there is a casual stroll, I would consider that a big red flag. (I would see that as stalling for time while trying to figure out what to do.)

Another possibility, besides outright theft by one of the valets, is that they did not secure your car. I believe it is not unusual for valets to forget to ensure that all the windows are up and each door is locked. I say this because besides encountering this situation numerous times where I used to work, I also have checked-up on other valet services and found unlocked cars.

So you've got a manager in front of you. And together you are conducting an investigation.

You need to find out which valet initially parked the car. If they don't have these records, then this is a management failure.

If you are at a hotel, summon the head of security and summon the hotel's top manager. Explain what is wrong. You'll find out soon if this is something new or an ongoing problem.

They might know of some other avenues to pursue, such as video camera footage that could be looked at.

If no resolution is quickly realized, then you ask the top people in charge what they are going to do about it to make this right.

Now, if we are dealing with a small item of value, request a refund of the parking fee and immediate reimbursement in the form of cash. The manager should appreciate that you brought this to his/her attention and will understand that there is a rotten apple somewhere on the valet team.

Even if 50 cents was stolen out of your cup-holder, I would press for a refund of the parking fee and immediate reimbursement.

But if the item in question has higher value, and if immediate reimbursement isn't going to happen, then you want to get started with filing a claim against the valet company's insurance coverage. They should be able to hand you a form on the spot.

You should get your parking fee refunded on-the-spot. Ask for it.

And you should press the venue operator for compensation to cover your aggravation and inconvenience.

You want the venue operator on your side, fully willing to lean hard against the valet company to satisfy you for the monetary loss. And you want the venue operator to ease the stress by offering a concession to you, such as a free meal for two at their nicest restaurant, or a multi-night free stay at the hotel (it depends on the severity of the theft situation). 

If you are a regular customer, or somebody with unusual influence, they will be more willing to accommodate you in this way.

Ask for what you believe is fair, along with their assurance that they will see to it that you get the compensation you deserve.

I happen to think that a lot of valet managers are scoundrels, or are forced to be scoundrels by their bosses. This could be a very difficult uphill battle. 

It might make more sense to call the police and get a report written-up for your own insurance company.

When the theft is small, most people don't do anything about it. As a matter of principle, I would take a stand... because this is not behavior I would accept or tolerate.

Questions to ask the manager:

  • What kind of screening do you do with each new hire?

  • Have you had any theft issues besides mine?

  • What are you going to do to make this right?

  • I'd like the name and phone number of your district manager (or boss).

If they say they are not responsible and that it says so right on the back of the ticket... that is baloney. You will get a resolution. There are no ands, ifs or buts about it.

Perseverance is a powerful thing. Most people give up. But if you stick with it, your chances of compensation increase.

If you absolutely believe that you are right and they burned you, then press your case. 

I recommend that you journalize EVERYTHING that happened and everything that was said while your memory is still fresh. And continue to journalize every other point of contact with these people.

If this happened at a hotel and a resolution does not appear to be in the works, then you bring the matter to leadership further up in the company. I would give them an opportunity to make it right before attacking their online reputation with derogatory social media posts. Keep that in reserve until the appropriate time.

Still not getting results?

The next step up in pressure is to lobby a local TV news station to cover your story. They seem to love a good "valet parking fiasco" story.

And then you amplify that story by spreading it around on the web, and smearing it in their corporate leadership's faces.

Don't threaten to ruin their reputation. That might be seen as an illegal extortion attempt that they could leverage against you. If the time has arrived for this more extreme measure, then just do it.

You can threaten to sue them though. Nothing wrong with that. Just save it for the appropriate time. (And your journalized notes about the entire situation will be helpful here.)

You start out soft, then build the pressure as the situation warrants it. 

What if you discovered the theft after you drove away from the valet?

Your chances of a successful resolution just dropped. Though there is still a chance. If a week went by, they will very quickly dismiss you. If it has been 30 minutes and you parked no place else, then you still have a shot at it.

Most likely, if something was taken, it is going to be very difficult to recover that item or be compensated for it, even if you notice the theft immediately. You are going to have to be firm and resolute.

A lot also depends on the caliber of leadership at the valet company. 

If you were wronged, even in the tiniest way, they need to know about it. Take a stand, and demand what is fair.

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