Business as usual involves squeezing valet companies for the best possible terms so that your costs are minimized and your profit numbers are the biggest they can be.
This common approach to dealing with outsourced valet operations may have appeal, but in the long run it actually damages your business in ways you may not realize.
When you go for the lowest possible cost with selecting an outsourced valet services provider, you give the valet company no choice but to also go with business as usual, which is to hire workers for below market-value wages. Sometimes this wage is the tipped minimum wage.
You know that saying "You get what you pay for?" I think it applies here.
If you pay as little a possible, you're probably going to get crap.
The salespeople who are doing everything they can to land the contract will paint a rosy picture and talk about high standards. But in the end, this isn't what you are going to get.
You will get what everybody else has... an outsourced valet staff where every staff member has a short life cycle, isn't trained or managed well, and is on a track to deliver low standards of service to your customers.
Why do I say this? First of all, I was an actual valet worker at a top property, so I know what reality is on the front lines of the valet parking industry. And secondly, I've spent a huge number of uncountable hours riding the internet, seeing what's happening involving valets. Twitter is a major source of my information.
Last week, after getting their car returned from a valet service, one customer found a bag of weed in their car! There are a whole lot of valet workers out there right now, on the clock, with a bag of weed on them. Or they are taking the remnants of marijuana joints out of their customer's cars, thinking that it's okay because there is nothing your guests can do about it.
And they are lighting-up in the parking garage, or out back someplace.
They are also stealing the spare change out of cup-holders.
They are taking things of value that your guests mistakenly entrusted your valet workers to safeguard, things like cameras, iPads, iPods, phones, phone chargers, chewing gum, chewing tobacco, jewelry, guns (!), money, hats, jackets, sunglasses, cigarettes, food, pens, even air fresheners! And definitely the weed.
Man, somebody recently complained on Twitter that a valet stole his $1200 Cartier sunglasses. Yow...
It's really widespread. This theft of items never stops. It's always happening.
All these theft complaints leave me with the impression that there is a lot of scum employed as valet workers.
When you negotiate a contract that does not allow the valet workers to be paid equitably, this is what you get: low lifes who will victimize your customers with theft like this.
Thievery is just one of many ways the guest experience can be MARRED by having a poorly paid valet staff working at your venue.
Low pay makes the workforce highly transient.
To an outsider, parking cars seems so simple. "Like, how can you screw it up?" they ponder. The number of ways things can go wrong is substantial though. Rookie valets make the likelihood of problems increase.
There were many times my earnings as a valet were just not fair. I was paid $3.83 an hour and forced to rely on the whims of customers in whether I would make an equitable wage or not. Many times I had lousy shifts.
This is precisely why we lost many workers. Some decided to go wait on tables instead.
You know, not everybody tips the valet. And most just tip when they are leaving. So if everybody is coming in and nobody is leaving, the valets are working their asses off for peanuts. After a few lousy shifts, workers begin looking for other jobs.
Why should you care?
It all comes back to the quality of the customer experience. As experienced valets abandon ship, the valet company scrambles to find replacement workers. (I have the impression that it is difficult to find quality suckers willing to work for peanuts.)
Then there is the possibility of being understaffed. This is a really bad thing when it's busy, as you probably are aware. On Twitter, especially on Sunday mornings, sometimes guests are complaining of 1 hour waits to get their cars back from the valet service. (That can't be healthy for customer loyalty.)
When brand new rookie valets come on-board, they are highly likely to make mistakes which end up inconveniencing your guests.
They can be confused about the location coordinates of the car, so it takes extra time to bring the car out. Sometimes they don't know how to operate a certain car.
Having no experience in driving more than perhaps just 2 or 3 cars before they got hired, there is a real possibility that some of your guests will find new damage on their vehicle, especially if they have a large vehicle, like a full-size pick-up truck.
Typical valet companies are experts at dodging damage claims. You know that, right?
The deductibles are high in the valet business. Every damage incident is a torpedo strike on a valet company's finances. They will dodge, evade and stall on their damage claims if at all possible.
This isn't good for you! This type of activity causes permanent loss of customer loyalty and good will. And it's toxic, because people go online and talk about it. I've seen the posts on TripAdvisor. And especially on Twitter.
A rookie valet isn't going to tell his boss that he just scratched up a wheel, or put a dent in somebody's bumper. Because he (or she) doesn't want to risk the fallout, which involves being looked down upon by peers and facing the possible loss of a desperately needed income source.
So the rookie who bangs up a car probably is going to keep his mouth shut.
The typical customer, who will have completely trusted that their car was handled flawlessly, at some point after leaving will discover they got hit with sneaky valet damage.
Of course, the valet manager will say that since they left the ramp, a fair determination of where the damage actually happened cannot be made, so therefore it is not the valet service's responsibility.
People can't believe it when a valet service loses their keys. Yes, I said keys. Most are not savvy enough to hand the valet the one key necessary to operate the car. Instead, they give the valet the keys to their life: their house key, their offices keys, and every other key.
Valets lose these. And it is not uncommon.
My most popular page on this site is about what to do after a valet service loses your keys!
Yes! It's true.
Where do the keys go?
Well, I think a lot of times the keys are accidentally left in cars that are being brought out. Like, when a valet takes a car to the garage and brings a departing car out, he can accidentally leave the arriving car's keys in the departing car.
So when the arriving car needs to be moved hours or days later, nobody has any idea where the keys are. This is a rookie mistake. And it is a killer for the guest. There is so much aggravation, stress and inconvenience connected with those incidents.
Even worse, another mistake made by rookies, AND poorly trained experienced valet workers, is giving cars away to the wrong people. For example, HERE IS A BRAND NEW EXAMPLE. According to the story, an employee of a large parking services company gave the keys to a 2014 Mazda to a thief. Those keys included the customer's house and office keys!
When you employ amateur valet workers, you expose your guests to this type of risk.
But let's get back to the transient nature of this workforce...
They are typically young males whose brains haven't fully matured yet. Genetically they are wired for excitement, adventure, thrills and pleasure.
They are prone to taking chances.
Which means they are prone to driving aggressively and recklessly after they develop a little bit of job experience.
When one starts to drive aggressively, it spreads like a cancer and they all start doing it, sometimes trying to one-up each other by being even more daring.
Meanwhile, the typical valet manager is at his desk, doing paperwork, completely oblivious to the monkey business that is happening.
And what this means for you is reputational risk. You may have heard of the valet getting caught going 50 mph in a parking garage, thanks to the 2015 Corvette's "performance data recorder." It became national news. It was all over the internet. And these types of incidents are only going to increase in regularity as dash cams and performance data recorders become more popular.
It's going to happen. Valets are going to get caught red-handed abusing their customers' cars. And it will reflect very poorly on your property if it happens with one of your valets.
Any major screw-up by a valet is viral material, especially if it is caught on video. It spreads like fire on the internet. It's just the way it is. Valet parking fiascos go viral. They go global.
So your low-standards valet workforce brings this additional risky element to the table.
This is just some of what you get when you go cheap in hiring a valet company.
And I didn't even mention the customer service aspect. Knowing how to handle every car out there, knowing how to handle high expectation guests with confidence and poise that reflects well upon your venue, these are special skills.
If you don't have the right talent in place in your valet department, if they don't take their responsibilities seriously, if they don't care if they get fired because it's not a real job, if they are disgruntled because they are not being treated fairly wage-wise, it's going to hurt you. Customers are going to have negative experiences that piss them off and make them tell others about it.
You probably can't see it, but when you don't have professionals handling the valet parking duties, your venue is much more likely to take hits in the customer loyalty department.
It's short-sighted to squeeze valet companies for the lowest possible pricing.
On the other side of things, the valet companies are set in their ways. They have their systems in place. They have their culture in place. And they don't know how to change.
In my opinion, valet workers should be cultivated to be career employees. There should be no tipping. The tip should be built into the price of parking.
The valets receive a market-value wage plus a piece of the parking fee. It should be split up weekly and divided equally among all valets based upon number of hours worked.
This creates income stability. It takes away mood swings shown to customers after they burn their valet on a tip. It makes valets content to work the slow Sunday and Monday night shifts.
Having elite professional valets who care about the quality of their work will help to distinguish your property from others.
Guests like to see familiar faces among the staff when they return. You will have that going for you as well.
People will like not having to figuring out how much to tip, especially the foreigners. It will probably bring you some buzz, some positive chatter, since this would be pioneering.
Eventually there will come a point when the word starts to spread around that you have professionals valet parking the cars, not college kids who steal spare change, play with the radios, drive recklessly, and take weed breaks.
In a competitive marketplace, this is a way for your property to have an edge over other hotels.
Eventually, I believe some hotel operators are going to figure out it's a competitive advantage to have professional valets and not amateurs.
And when you have pros doing the work, you are less susceptible to an on-demand valet service taking a piece out of your parking revenue.
Have you heard of on-demand valet parking?
It's an Uber-like app. People can summon a valet to meet-up with them at a certain location and take their car away. When the customer is 15 minutes or so away from needing their car, they use their smartphone to summon a return of the car.
If your hotel has a reputation for lousy service where the guests are forced to wait 20, 30 or more minutes for their car, people are going to begin using on-demand valet services instead of your service. They are going to cut you right out.
When these early adopters pull this on you and jump the line:
They are going to brag about it loudly so that everybody knows how clever they are.
When the victims of your slow valet service realize there is a smarter, faster, WAY CHEAPER alternative, it's going to turn into more than a trickle of lost parking revenue — if those on-demand valet companies can keep up with demand.
Notice I said "WAY CHEAPER." They are winning customers by being value-priced and by offering convenience. It's a real threat.
You gotta up your game here or your parking profit center will be at risk. Luxe and Zirx have money behind them. They are expanding. And there are other players entering this arena. Investors are excited about these companies. They will probably continue pumping money into them.
Business as usual is a risky path.