Should you arrange valet parking for your wedding guests?

Things to consider when planning your wedding day...

Downtown New Haven, Connecticut. Nice little city to explore for a quick visit.

Downtown New Haven, Connecticut. Nice little city to explore for a quick visit.

I worked as a valet at a luxury hotel in Philadelphia. We very frequently had wedding events on weekends.

There were times it went badly. Because we didn't have enough staffing.

The way wedding events go is... EVERYBODY SHOWS UP AT THE SAME TIME.

If the valet parking operation does not have enough valets working, there is going to be a traffic jam. We had times where it might have taken 20 minutes or longer just to get your car valet parked.

It's not a good way to start the guest experience.

So my recommendations for offering valet parking at wedding events are:

  1. Get an accurate count of the number of vehicles that will be arriving. Our problems sometimes resulted from getting inaccurate information about the number of cars expected.
     
  2. Make sure the valet company gets this information and stress that you expect a smooth-flowing "ramp."
     
  3. If you are providing "hosted" valet parking, which means free valet parking, let your guests know whether they are expected to tip or not. Valet workers generally are paid poorly and expect to make tips.
     
  4. Recommend to guests that they leave no items of value in their cars. No wedding gifts. No cameras. Nothing they would hate to lose.
     
  5. Tell them to give the valet only the one key necessary to operate the car, and to bring a spare key to keep apart from the key given to the valet.
     
  6. I strongly recommend making photo ID's to be attached to each guest car key. For example, you could copy your friends' Facebook profile shots, write their names beneath the shots, and ask your guests to attach this to their car key. This way it makes it easier to find a misplaced key on the valet key board, and less likely they will give a car to the wrong person (a criminal exploiting the chaos of a very busy parking event).

    So if the valet is about to give a key to somebody and their face doesn't match the photo, a valet parking fiasco is more likely to be avoided.
     
  7. As a service to your guests, perhaps have somebody to quickly photograph all sides of every car as it arrives, to document the condition of the car for them. And advise your guests to quickly inspect their valet parked car for damage when they get it back, for just in case. 
     
  8. Be sure that you are dealing with a top valet company that has experience. Verify their insurance coverage by calling their insurance carrier. Check what their deductible is. Ask how they handle key security. Ask if there is ever a time when they leave cars running unattended? You don't want them to be so understaffed that this is permitted to happen.
     
  9. Ask what the experience level of each valet is. You don't want any brand new rookies working your event. Rookies are more prone to making dumb mistakes.
     
  10. Detail your service expectations. Don't say they are not allowed to move the seats. Seats need to be moved to best allow the safe operation of the vehicle. But I would insist that the valets not change the radio stations. All they can do is turn it down, not up.

    Insist the valets ensure that all windows are up and all doors are locked. Insist that change left in the cars are not for them. The cars must be respected and parked well.
     
  11. Be certain they have enough parking spaces for your event. They can't be parking cars in places where your guests could get parking tickets or even towed. 

Valet parking fiascos happen. And if you have a lot of guests, the chances of problems happening increases.

There were some days we had wedding events with 300 cars. Man, that's an awful lot of running. It was really unfair for us to run our asses off parking those cars. Then the shift would end and the guys on the next shift would make all the money when the event finally ended... because most people only tip on departure. That absolutely sucked.

We needed more valets during the arrival period. Because that's when the big rush was. After the rush, most of the rookies and helpers from other valet locations would be sent home with empty pockets. The experienced valets and those most liked by the boss would get to work during the event departure time. 

It's a situation where the arrival valets might be prone to plunder the spare change left in cup-holders, and things like that.

Another issue is that the more experienced valets will often lobby to send even more guys home as everybody is standing around waiting for the event to end. This helps the remaining valets to have a bigger piece of the tip pie. But it also can result in long delays for your tired guests to finally get their cars and leave. That happened a lot too.

The valets don't care that much that your guests have to wait. It's the money they care about. 

So as part of your negotiations with the venue operator or valet company, I recommend nailing down the staffing level you expect during the arrival phase and departure phase.

Wedding guests typically arrive all at the same time, and then they trickle out as the event unwinds. So it can be okay to have fewer valet workers at departure time. But you should still have some over-staffing in case problems happen.

Problems can include:

  • a car being parked with the location coordinates missing from the ticket. This means a valet needs to run through an entire parking facility clicking a key fob in hopes of finding the car. (Yes, rookies often forget to mark down where they parked a car.) When a car gets lost, it takes a valet out of action. This slows down service for everybody else.
     
  • a key getting lost. It happens often. And it is more likely to happen with a big event. For example, if there are 300 keys on the valet key board and if somebody placed a key on the wrong hook, it can become very difficult to find the missing key. This is where that attached photo ID can make it easier to quickly find a misplaced key.
     
  • a car going dead. If a valet thought a car's headlights were set to auto and it wasn't, they might have left the headlights on for hours. It takes time to jump-start a car. So there is another valet or two out of action while everybody is waiting for their cars.
     
  • a valet being unable to operate a manual. Lots of valets cannot drive stick-shift cars. If the arrival valet forgot to mark on the ticket that it was a manual, it causes delay for the whole team when a valet wastes a trip running for a car they don't know how to drive.
     
  • a key being severely lost. If it can't be found on the key board, then this becomes an emergency situation. All the valets are asked to empty their pockets. If nobody has it, then it becomes an urgent matter to check all the cars, since the missing key may have been left in another car (another good reason to have photo IDs attached to keys).
     
  • damage events. If a car gets damaged, this instantly hurts the team's productivity. It takes the manager out of action too.
     
  • more people leaving simultaneously than expected. Running your event so that the people trickle out is good. Ending it abruptly is bad. Especially if the valet team sent too many valets home expecting a trickle-style end to the event. 

Note: Your guests should not request their cars until they are ready to leave. If a car is brought up and it just sits there, this hampers the smooth flow of the operation, and it can slow service for everyone.

Valets do put your guests at risk for problems like theft of valuables, vehicle damage and even vehicle theft. 

It's a nice amenity to offer guests, but don't go with amateurs. This is asking for trouble.

If the service is too expensive, then perhaps just make arrangements for upfront parking solely for your oldest and physically handicapped guests.