Some people say they will never use a valet parking service...

...but sometimes that scary moment arrives, because there is no other alternative.

Cars hunting for parking spaces in Stuart, Florida.

Cars hunting for parking spaces in Stuart, Florida.

In Stuart, Florida it appears they have a lot of parking spaces. But the town has become so popular that sometimes the supply of available parking spaces disappears.

The town is trying to see if valet parking is the answer.

If you were coming here from an hour away to watch a free concert on the river, and you found out that the only remaining parking option was valet parking, would you turn around and go home or bite the bullet and let a stranger drive your car to a parking space somewhere?

While a few would say screw it and leave, some who have never valet parked before would decide to take the chance with the valets. And it would be very uncomfortable for them. They probably would have a hard time even enjoying themselves while they worry about their car.

If you are one of those holdouts, it makes sense to get a little knowledge about the subject of valet parking for just in case.

First, if there is a chance that you might need to valet park at your destination, prepare the car before you leave home. Take everything out of it that you don't want to lose.

The staff on a valet service might be completely honest, but sometimes doors are left unlocked or windows are left down, and a crime of opportunity might be perpetrated against the contents of your car by a passing criminal.

More than a few valets have helped themselves to the coins left in a vehicle's cup-holder. Remove them too and anything else that has value to you. Don't forget your phone charger, GPS device, garage door opener, toll highway transponder, your sunglasses, pens, pencils, weed — especially weed. They will totally steal your weed.

Second, you are only going to give the valet one key, not the keys to your life. Take everything but the car key off the key ring. My top blog post since June 2014 is about "what to do after a valet service loses your keys." 

If valet services didn't lose keys, people would not be searching the internet for advice about what to do in this situation.

It happens! And you definitely don't want the valet service to suddenly lose every key you have. So be prepared to give them just one key AND bring a spare key with you, for just in case. It's the smart thing to do.

Take a good look at your car. Become familiar with every flaw, every scratch, every ding, every dent on your car.

And bring some ones with you and maybe a couple fives. If you valet park, there is probably a 95% chance you are dealing with a tipped employee. Valet workers can be paid as little as $2.13 an hour in 19 states according to the U.S. Department Of Labor.

When I was a valet, I worked at a fancy hotel that charged $49 for overnight parking. Do you think that meant I got paid a fair, market value wage? Some people probably assumed so. But my actual hourly wage was just $3.83 an hour. (And there was talk that this amount might be reduced to $2.83.)

So tips matter a lot to valet workers.

There is a lot of discussion on the internet about:

  • whether you tip after you get your car back,
  • whether you tip when you drop-off your car,
  • whether you tip at drop-off AND pick-up,
  • whether you tip at all if there is a charge for valet parking, etc.

Some people have very strong opinions about how it is only appropriate to tip after the service has been rendered, as if this is a reward for doing a good job.

Whoever came up with that idea? What good does a tip at the end do? It can't undo the lack of care and respect your car might have received.

I advocate tipping both ways: on the way in and on the way out — with the bulk of the tip being deployed on arrival TO INFLUENCE CARE, and an additional tip given when the car is returned AS A COURTESY, if the car has been returned perfectly with nothing amiss. 

Some people get bent out of shape if a seat is moved. Sorry, you should expect this when using a valet service. It's not about the valet being comfortable for the 60 seconds or so they are driving your car. It's about safety and reducing the chance of wrecking your car. 

Things that are amiss would be your GPS device no longer being in the car, cigarette smoke in the car (or the smell of weed), rim scratches, body scratches, dents and other damage.

Some people think tipping upfront is like extortion, where if money is given up-front the possibility of monkey business happening supposedly goes down. And they feel this type of extortion is wrong.

We're talking about your car. It's probably a fairly valuable item that is expensive to fix.

When I was a valet, not many people had the consideration and sophistication to tip on arrival. I appreciated the few that did. And I made an extra effort to give them value for their consideration. This meant I would place the car in a superior parking space, a space that was in a safer location with more space around it. I saved those primo spots for the customers who helped me out that way.

You know, the valets that worked when you arrived might not be the same valets working when you leave. There were plenty of times I worked shifts that were not fair or equitable. I would run my ass off parking a ton of cars, and then my shift would be over. The guys that showed up after I left would reap the bounty of my hard work. I'd go home with peanuts.

Right, I understand. Why should you care about whether a valet makes a decent buck or not?

But, tipping on arrival can make a difference in how your car is driven, the level of respect it gets, and whether it gets shoved into a very tight parking space with a high chance of getting dinged, or in a nice big spot that is saved for the good valet customers.

If you are tipping generously only on departure, it is too late for that nice tip to influence whether your car gets a good parking space. It's wasted influence. Use your influence when you arrive. And it's pretty lousy to tip nothing when you are leaving, especially if there was a shift change. (It is a nice courtesy to leave a tip of some kind when making your exit.)

Here is a chart showing how much to tip.

When the car is returned, don't just get in the car and drive away. You have to do your own vehicle damage audit. You have to walk around it and look the car over closely for any new damage.

If you are dealing with the fanciest property in town and think you can be made whole if you happen to find any damage after you have pulled away, you're wrong.

Once you drive away, that's it. If you find damage later, they will say that a fair determination of where the damage actually happened cannot be made, and they will deny your claim.

YOU MUST find any new damage before you drive away. So don't feel rushed. Take as much time as you need to inspect the car. If everything is okay, THEN AND ONLY THEN do you hand over your departure tip.

Get more knowledge...

I go into more detail about how to smartly use valet parking services HERE.