A Tampa woman visiting Atlanta is now without her 2012 Chrysler 300, thanks to the valet staff at this DoubleTree hotel.
Apparently, a valet gave her a story about there being a backup ticket, or a damaged ticket, and the thief somehow got his hands on it. I'm not buying that story at all. This results from inadequate training, poor management oversight, and improper culture.
Yes, it could happen to you too. Valets do sometimes give cars to the wrong people. Usually when this happens, a rental car is involved and the person taking it doesn't realize they are in somebody else's rental. But in this case it appears a ballsy criminal deceived the valet into handing out the key without a proper claim ticket being presented.
The victim says she doesn't understand how this could happen. I can explain it:
Valet workers are not paid fair market value for their time. In Georgia, the federal tipped minimum wage applies, which is $2.13 an hour. I don't know how much these particular valets are being paid, but it really could be that little.
It's difficult to find quality suckers to work for that low of a wage and to stick with the job. The low pay flushes them out at some point. Consequently, many valet companies are constantly recruiting, bringing new rookies in. And few with experience hang around for long. The workforce is in a constant state of mediocrity.
Training of new hires could last for just a day. New hire training is often minimal, or they are being trained word-of-mouth style from a valet co-worker with just a little bit more experience than the new guy.
Managers spend too much time behind a desk and not actively monitoring and coaching their workers. They are MIA.
Forcing valets to rely on the whims of customers in order to make their wages goes badly a lot of times, because not everybody tips. So when somebody has a five or a ten or a $20 bill in their hand and says "I can't find my claim ticket, but that's my car," a valet who is starving for a tip really doesn't want to jeopardize that tip. If the person acts like it's their car, well, the valet is probably going to take that tip and hand over the keys.
How can you defend your car from this sort of sloppy valet work?
I've got two ways.
Download my free "codeword card" pdf files. You will see a link to it in the right column of this page. Or even better, get a "valet client photo ID card." You can learn more about it HERE.
Either of these will put up a layer of defense against having your car stolen while it is in the care of a valet service.
Another issue this victim has is fear of somebody coming to her home... in Tampa.
If you are giving all of your keys to a valet service, including your house key, that is a big, dumb mistake. DON'T DO IT! Because valets lose keys... ALL THE TIME. They can also snap a photo of your key and have new keys made through the internet.
Anyway, if her home key is among what is now missing, the thing to do is have the house re-keyed and make the valet service pay for it.
If the garage door opener was also in the car, then the frequency needs to be changed on that device and the garage door opener. Until that is done, unplug that garage door opener right away. (The thief can get your home address from your GPS unit or your vehicle registration papers in your glove compartment.)
There are a lot of things that can go wrong when using valet parking services. If you would like to minimize your chances of problems, I have a tutorial with my latest thinking on this topic HERE.
*Believe it or not, another valet in Atlanta gave a 2012 Audi A7 away to a thief back in December. This thief didn't get very far. He wrecked it. Here is my blog post about it.
Hotel operators... see these news stories? This could be you. How embarrassing, huh? This is what happens when you negotiate valet service contracts that force these companies to pay their workers the absolute minimum. You don't get career professionals. Instead you get amateurs who are easily capable of causing your venue enormous embarrassment and reputational damage.
Also, if you have a distressed customer like this, it's probably a good idea not to nickle and dime them with charges as this hotel did. That pushed her over the edge, and she got a TV station involved.