How to Use Valet Parking (Without Looking Like an Idiot)

by Brett & Kate McKay on March 19, 2013 · 76 comments

in Manly Skills, Out on the Town


It’s a standard scene in television and film that’s designed to show what a smooth, cool dude the protagonist is. He cruises up to a club in his sleek sports car, hands the vehicle over to the parking valet with a wink, and then confidently strides inside with a beautiful dame on his arm.

That, unfortunately, is not at all how my first time using valet parking went. My friend was getting married at a swanky hotel, and when I pulled up to the drop-off zone, I realized I had no idea what to do. Should I wait for the valet to come over or get right out of the car? Do I leave the car running or give him the keys? Who do I tip? The guy parking the car or the one who will bring it back to me later? I was flustered. I was awkward. I was driving a Honda Element.

How to use a parking valet service is something nobody teaches you, and I know I’m not the only guy who felt like a complete doofus the first time he tried it, as I’ve had a bunch of AoM readers request that I write up a tutorial on the subject.

To find out the proper protocol for using a valet service, we talked to former valet Drew Klein. Drew valeted cars all throughout college at a Marriott Hotel. Below we share his tips for how to use a parking service without feeling like an idiot.


Tidy up your car. If you know you’re going to be using valet service for your evening out, clean up your car a little bit. It doesn’t need the full wax service, but a wash is a good idea if it’s super dirty and cleaning out the McDonald’s bag in the backseat will make sure you aren’t embarrassed to hand over the keys.

Have some cash on hand. You don’t want to pull up to the valet only to realize you forgot to get cash for the tip. You either have to drive away and park on your own, or be the ungrateful cad who uses the service and stiffs the valet. Even if you can tip with your card, a cash tip is always the better way to go.

Dropping Off Your Car

Pay attention. Things move fast at the vehicle drop-off zone. The valets have an efficient system in place so that guests can drop off or pick up their cars quickly and easily. You don’t want to be the schmo who throws a wrench in the gears. Be alert for valets directing traffic and follow their lead. Drive into the loading zone safely, slowly, and in the right direction.

Tuck away all your valuables. If you have any valuable items in your car, tuck them away out of sight or put them in the trunk before you arrive at the valet stand. While the vast majority of valets are honest and trustworthy, you never know when you’ll encounter a bad apple.

Grab what you need for the night. Before you get out of the car, make sure you have everything you’re going to need for the evening — cellphone, wallet, tickets, etc. Sure, the valet can run to your car to get these things if you forget them, but if you have him do so, it’s good form to tip an extra few dollars for his trouble. Save your money and double-check before you get out of the car.

Leave the car running. Don’t take your keys out of the ignition. Just park the car and leave it running. Remember, things move quickly at the drop-off zone. Taking your keys out for the valet just mucks up the intricate ballet they have going on.

Wait until the valet opens the door for you (or not). Drew says that whether you wait for the valet to open the door for you depends on a few things. If the valet service is being offered at a high-end hotel or restaurant, expect to have the valet come open the door for you. If it’s a less formal event, like an art festival, you might not get that sort of service, so just get out of the car as soon as you pull up.

Even if you can expect the white glove treatment from the valet, if you have a female passenger, the valet will open the door and help her out of the car first. You can sit in the car and wait for him or another valet to open your door for you – but if that makes you feel a little silly (I know it would me) feel free to get out of your car yourself while your female passenger is being helped.

If you get out of the car before the valet opens the door for you, stay with your vehicle until you’ve been greeted and given a claim ticket.

Inform the valet of your vehicle’s quirks, if it’s relevant. If your car has a tricky door or a touchy alarm system, let the valet know. They will appreciate this information.

Get your ticket. Make sure to get your claim ticket from the head valet and put it in a safe place.

Consider tipping the valet who takes your car from you. More on tipping protocol below.

Enjoy your event. Just don’t lose that claim ticket!

Picking Up Your Car

Consider calling ahead. If you’re staying somewhere like a hotel where the valets may park your car some distance from the establishment, it can take 10-20 minutes for them to retrieve your vehicle. So if you have somewhere to be at certain time, or you just don’t want to wait around in the lobby, call the valet service ahead of time so that when you’re ready to go, your car is too.

Give your ticket to the head valet and pay. When you’re ready to leave, walk over to the head valet. He’s typically at a stand by the drop-off zone. If you’re staying at a hotel, the valet service is typically added to your room’s bill, so you don’t need to worry about paying for the price of parking and valet service. If you’re not staying overnight in a hotel but are using the valet service, you typically pay for the parking and valet service when you’re leaving the event.

What if I lost my ticket? If you’re staying overnight at a hotel, it’s no big deal if you’ve lost your claim ticket. Your ticket number is typically connected with your room number. Just tell the valet your room number and you’re good to go.

If you’re using a valet service that’s not connected to a hotel, losing your claim ticket puts a wrinkle in things. Inform the managing valet that you’ve lost your claim ticket. You’ll likely be asked for your photo ID and to fill out a form with details about the car: make, model, color, license plate number, and identifying objects inside the vehicle. You may have to wait a bit longer than usual for your car to be retrieved. Make sure to give the valet who found your car an extra “la boost” for his trouble.

Check your vehicle for damage/stolen items. Before you leave, give the car a quick look over to check for any dings or nicks that weren’t there when you dropped your car off. Also, check to make sure your valuables are still safely stowed away. If you notice any damage/missing items, inform the managing valet right away; it’s hard to prove negligence/wrongdoing on the valet service’s part if you don’t notice the damage until you get home. Most reputable valet companies have insurance policies to cover these sorts of situations.

Tip the valet who retrieved your vehicle. More on tipping in the next section.

Tipping a Valet

Tipping is probably the most intimidating part of the valet process for first-timers. How much do you tip? Do you tip when you drop off your car or when you pick it up?

First, offer a tip even if the valet service is complimentary. Even if the hotel or restaurant you’re staying at offers “complimentary” or free valet service, make sure to still tip your valets. Drew says that the hourly pay for most valets is similar to that of waiters, i.e., they get paid below minimum wage (usually $4 an hour), and make most of their income from tips.

Who to Tip?

This was probably the most confusing part for me when I used a valet for the first time. Which valet are you supposed to tip?

According to Drew, most people will just tip the valet that retrieves their vehicle when they’re leaving the hotel/event. But he recommends that you also tip the valet who takes your car when you drop it off. First of all, you’re a gentleman. Take care of the person you are entrusting with what is likely your most valuable possession (besides your home). Even if it’s not intentional, as humans we tend to take better care of items in our care if we’ve been treated well and appreciated.

Another reason, especially if you’re using valet for overnight parking, is that the person you gave your car to likely won’t be working in the morning when you retrieve your car. The morning valet will reap the entire reward for handling your car, even though he only did half of the service. For a one-time event, it’s also no guarantee that you’ll have the same person handling your car both times. Tip all the folks who had a hand in your valet service.

Also, as Drew will explain below, generously tipping the valet who takes your car when you drop it off can buy you preferential treatment — like a parking spot in a “full” garage or a spot in the shade at an outdoor event so it stays nice and cool.

How Much to Tip? 

There are a lot of different opinions on what an adequate tip is for valet service. Drew said $5 was about average at the Marriott he worked at. One former valet recommended you pay $1 for every $10,000 your car is worth. I’m not so sure about that bit of advice, however. If you’re driving a 2000 Honda Accord, you’d only be tipping the valet $.30 when you drop off the car and $.30 when you pick it up. “Here is your quarter and nickel, dear sir. Thank you kindly.”

According to our research $2-$5 is pretty standard — that’s $2-$5 to the valet when you drop off your car and $2-$5 to the valet when you pick it up. All in all, look to tip between $4-$10 total for valet parking service.

If you want better service, tip more than the standard when you drop off your car. Drew recounts an experience where a larger tip bought preferential treatment for a customer:

“You can usually buy preferred service through tipping…If we run out of space, especially for events, we’d say, ‘Hey we’re out of space,’ but we’d typically still have a few spots in the garage that we had to reserve for overnight guests. I negotiated a larger tip with a guy who said, ‘Well surely you can find a spot for my vehicle somewhere in the garage.’ He pulled out a $5 bill and said, ‘Don’t you think you can find a spot?’ And I said, ‘Not for 5 bucks I can’t.’ So I got a $20 tip from that guy and I found a spot for his car.”

If the valet that retrieved your vehicle went above and beyond — like having your car waiting by the curb with a bottle of water in your cup holder — reward him with a nice, fat tip.

Have any other suggestions for first-timers using valet parking service? Share them with us in the comments!


{ 76 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Festus March 19, 2013 at 6:56 pm

Not something an average person is used to (or know) here in Namibia, I guess. But I found it very interesting, and entertaining too, to read.

2 M Kenyon March 19, 2013 at 8:14 pm

I had an experience with this. One new years, my mom was working as a waitress at a nice restaurant, and they wanted valets for the night. My dad and I weren’t doing anything, so we figured we’d go and keep an eye on mom and make a couple bucks.
I had my own small business at the time, but I was 18. I had finished with a client earlier that, but of course the banks weren’t opened.
We had some pretty fancy cars pull up, Cadillacs, Corvettes, a limo with some musicians, that kind of thing. Then this lady pulled up with two kids (under 15) in a Jetta, just a regular mom. At first, I figured a lady by herself with two kids, hmm… kinda felt sorry for her being by herself. But as she got out and, no lie, looked down her nose at me, she handed me four quarters. ‘You look like you’ll do a good job with my car, but you better not scratch it!’ she said. I just smiled an patted the $100 bills in my pocket from my real job and said, ‘Have a nice nite ma’am.’ I parked her car just like all the rest, nice and neat. I still laugh at how silly she was, trying to look so important, when she’s a people just like everybody else.

3 Lou March 19, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Good article. Thanks for sharing.
I added this to StumbleUpon.

4 Lee March 19, 2013 at 8:28 pm

As a valet, I thank you for this. (especially the tipping part.)

Some other tips:
-This isn’t the movies. You can’t snap your finger and have your car come speeding around the corner at a moment’s notice. Valet lots can be some distance from the door, especially in urban areas.

-Be ready to pick up your car when it arrives. Don’t hand in your retrieval ticket and then wander back inside for another drink or three.

-If you’re going to be staying late at a non-overnight event, retrieve your car and then park it yourself so the valets can go home. If the bulk of the party has left at 11 and you’re closing out the bar at 1:30, you better believe the valets have been contemplating what they can do to your car and not get fired over.

5 Rebecca Hunt March 19, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Thank you for addressing the tipping situation and how important it is. You should do a whole post on who gets tipped and why it’s necessary and how much, etc.

6 Jordan March 19, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Reminds me of the time I was broke indie filmmaker at SXSW Film Festival a few years ago. I was in a hurry to shoot a special conference at the Marriott, my brother and I pulled up in my 1993 Buick LeSabre and tossed him the keys and a $10 bill and said “take care of her, she’s a beauty.” The guy just laughed. We got out of the conference and realized we had no more cash left… so we went and found our car in the garage and snuck out ourselves. NOT the manly way to act.

7 Brett McKay March 19, 2013 at 9:07 pm
8 SteveD March 19, 2013 at 9:11 pm

As a doorman (valet supervisor) at multiple 5-star hotels for over 7 years, I can tell you without a doubt that the more you tip the better your car will be cared for. Depending on the night, $20-$50 can buy you a spot “up front” with the Lambos and Ferraris. We once parked an elderly lady in a beat up VW Bug on the front drive because she dropped a $50 on the way in. The guy in the Benz who came out in front of her was a bit surprised that her Bug was up front and his SL500 was in the garage. As they say, money talks and . . .

If you frequent a place, word gets around quickly concerning your tipping habits – from the valet drive to the front desk to the restaurant inside. Good tippers and bad tippers alike are well known among hotel/restaurant staff. Telling a valet that $10 bucks is outrageous for parking and tipping him $1.00 is a good way to make sure your car is parked in West Africa the next time you show up. Contrary to popular belief, valets do not get a piece of the parking price – that all goes to the hotel/restaurant.

9 SteveD March 19, 2013 at 9:14 pm

P.S. The whole folding up a couple of dollars into a small square and passing it while you’re shaking hands like you’re Slick Willy or something is not only annoying, but we all know that generally means you’re a cheapskate even if your date hasn’t figured it out yet.

10 VALET1111 March 19, 2013 at 10:01 pm

I have been working valet for 5 years part time on the weekend. I think 2 dollars is an okay tip, 3 dollars should be the average . and 5 is a good tip. I don’t understand how people tip a bartender 2 bucks when they order a beer, but they tip the valet 1-2 dollars who takes car of your car for the night.

The biggest recommendation I can give for people using valet is to take all your house keys off. Not because the valet will steal it, but because there are rare occasions where keys are misplaced.

If you want to be treated well tip the valet 10 bucks or over and we’ll put you in the front. I don’t care what you drive if you give us great tips we’ll take care of you.

DO NOT folder up a dollar 5 times, you cheap bastard. If you only have a dollar just give it and don’t hide it.

11 Jon B March 19, 2013 at 10:23 pm

Great article! As a former valet, I’m glad the word is getting out, and you are dispelling some of the movie myths. Despite the fact I haven’t “made it big” I still valet when it’s an easier option than parking and walking. Never mind the fact that I drive a 93 civic that only has one seat (in the process of car audio install). It’s worth the $5-10 bucks to me, that no matter what kind of note that I just walked out of a place on, there’s gonna be somebody there that’s happy to see me (leave).

One more tip I can offer: If you are going to keep a gun under the seat, switch it to underneath the passenger seat if possible. There’s nothing like being a tall valet and reaching to slide the seat back and grabbing a pistol handle instead. (Working as a valet at an upscale gentlemen’s club, I ran into this more often than one might think).

12 Jeff March 19, 2013 at 10:37 pm

I’m sorry, but tipping culture is getting absolutel out of control. Tipping makes sense in situations like food service where an attentive server can often make or break a meal. But why are we tipping for each and every service this way? I know why this feels like a good deal for restaurants. They get to provide their customers with a ‘service’ on the cheap and make the customers look like the bad guy if we don’t tip someone for doing his job. The restaurants need to suck it up and pay a decen wage to their employees, as this tipping system simply creates an environment where employees are willing to accept slave wages because articles like this one convince customers to tip for a service. If I get great service from a valet, I will tip, but I for one have never, ever noticed a correlation (I do tip, but only because I don’t want the people I am with to judge me – not because I actually believe it is the right thing to do).
Maybe this is just a really sore subject for me because in Dallas, most restaurants force you to valet, or they just set aside every space within a reasonable proximity for valet only. The valet is often complimentary but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m being forced to use it.

13 David B March 19, 2013 at 10:52 pm

OK, so here’s a question: I live in an apartment building that has “valet parking” for the residents. This is pretty standard in Miami. I pay $135/mo for the spot (believe me, I know how ridiculous that sounds) but the valet has to park and retrieve the car. And these aren’t the sort of valets that sprint off to your car when you hand over the ticket- the average wait is about 20-30 minutes (I always call way in advance if I can). So my question is, how do I handle tipping here? I don’t mean to sound cheap, but I am a medical student, and 2-5 bucks a couple times a day, on top of what I already paying, seems pretty expensive. Help!

14 Coy March 20, 2013 at 12:14 am

Dave B I’d say talk to the valets and figure out what they make an hour and what their average tip is.

I worked as a restaurant valet for four years, and i can tell you that plenty of customers would ask about tipping when dropping off their car.

One of the most annoying things customers could do, other than not tipping or wanting their car back when clearly drunk, was warning us about scratching their car. Any form of condescension or talking down their noses earned them a spot in the far back gravel lot no matter how nice their car was.

One thing on staying out past the valet’s hours, oftentimes if you come back within an hour of the valet’s closing time you can tip them a little extra to move your car down and give you back your keys. Though that won’t work so well if all they’re working with is a parking garage.

15 Steve T March 20, 2013 at 4:46 am

David, I would ask around and see how the other residents are handling the tip. Good luck in Med School.

16 Kirk March 20, 2013 at 6:14 am

Great Article!

I read an article a number of years ago that had to do with tipping/service. It just happened that they used the valet parking as the example. It was more based on how to get great service. The author of the article stated that the garage that he parked at on a regular basis always had multiple valets around. He always tipped in the $3-5 range. On occasion he would tip $20. The valets new it and when they watched him pull up they were all very attentive to say the least. They made sure that his car was always well taken care of and would usually be out of the garage before others that had gotten there before him. He considered it a fairly inexpensive way to get great service.

17 Robert March 20, 2013 at 6:32 am

I would first like to say that this is the best article I read on valet parking and he pretty much pin-pointed it.
I own a valet company and have been a valet for 13 years. From my experience its more important to treat the valet with respect over what you tip them.
A few more tips:
Only give the valet a spare car key. From time to time we make mistakes. Big problems when loose keys.
Don’t go wandering off without letting the valet know. This pertains to if you frequenting a restaurant.
Be nice! If your a regular especially. Don’t look down at us.
This comment is for David B. My guess is most people don’t tip the valets. I’m sure they make an hourly rate. Probably minimum wage. That’s why they don’t hustle for the cars. I would make friends with them. Give them gifts time to time. Tickets to a show, restaurant gift cards, etc. You don’t have to tip daily. Take care of them on holidays. To be honest, just get to know them. Ask them what’s their average tip. They should be honest, so you should too.

18 ToB March 20, 2013 at 6:46 am

As a longtime female reader, let me say thank you for the work you do on this blog. You are making the world a better place! I have known a lot of ‘guys’ who don’t know how to be ‘men,’ not b/c they are flawed people, but b/c society has lost consensus on even basic acceptable behaviour. No one ever taught them, or women for that matter, what to do, how to behave. The advice and comments here are invaluable.

19 Tom March 20, 2013 at 6:53 am

When I lived in Vegas where Valet is always complimentary, the standard was $2-5 on pick-up and I think most knew that. Am I going to tip that much where I have to pay to valet my car? Likely not. I know the average salary of a valet in Vegas is at least 80K. They might get paid like a waiter but they sure make up for it.

20 Marco March 20, 2013 at 7:42 am

During my senior year in high school and then into college, I was a valet for a group of high-end restaurants in my hometown. Most of the guys on the crew were friends of mine, and many of us were on the track team; the valet concession owner liked to hire fit athletes who could run the length of a lot filled with 350+ cars on a busy night.
This article is a little over-the-top but it does offer some very handy tips. The one about “tidying up the car” gave me a chuckle; we would always marvel at how the owner of a Jaguar VandenPlas or Mercedes S-class could allow cigarette butts to land on the cabin floor, and believe me, it made us not care too much if we happened to nick the car door or to stuff the vehicle in an area of the lot with chewed-up asphalt and pot holes.

Tipping: Nowadays, nobody should pull up at a fancy-schmancy resort or restaurant and throw the valet $2.00 for ‘taking care of my car’. I don’t care if you’re driving an AMC Pacer, $5 is the minimum; and, be prepared to hand over more if a different guy brings the car back at the end of the night. Respect: I couldn’t agree more that showing respect for the fella with whom you have just entrusted the temporary use of your beloved Mustang GT is huge. That, and a generous tip, will almost guarantee a pleasant parking experience.

21 ToddB March 20, 2013 at 7:54 am

Is tipping practice any different for a patient using the valet service at a hospital?

22 Adam - HireMeHigherEd March 20, 2013 at 8:11 am

I have a firm, “No valet service if I am alone in my car” policy. If my wife is with me, I am much more likely to spring for a valet if we are somewhere nice, but I am way to self conscious to do it by myself. Plus, I usually enjoy the exercise.

23 Joe March 20, 2013 at 8:18 am

Thanks for the article! It will be nice to look like I know what I’m doing next time I’m out at a nice event.

What about motorcycles? Generally I’m not going to take my bike to a black-tie affair, but I am taking it to a hotel with valet parking this summer. I’m not a fan of turning the keys over to someone I don’t know. How do I politely turn down the service? If they offer to let me park it in their lot I’ll still tip, but I’m just not sure how to approach this.

24 tim_lebsack March 20, 2013 at 9:23 am

Much good advice in the article and the comments.
Also, disappointed with a few off the top of my head takeaways:
1) Valet service depends greatly upon the status of your automobile.
2) Some valets, if choosing to take offense, will rationalize vandalizing your vehicle.
3) “Complimentary” is a euphemism for “I’ll leave it up to the guest to negotiate the trade”.
I’m understanding better why the article, because so many are uncomfortable.

25 Chad March 20, 2013 at 9:47 am

Hey Brett. Great article! Have you ever thought of doing a Reddit AMA or a Google hangout. I think many people (well at least me) have questions on everyday topics and would enjoy picking your brain.

26 Brandon March 20, 2013 at 11:05 am

Former Valet here. I worked for a valet company while I was in college and have worked many many different venues and steady contracts from restaurants and hospitals, to huge charity events and expos and shows.

I like your article but I think you missed a point on how much to tip. Tipping should be used as your bartering tool with the valet to get better service and the valet’s expectation of a tip is generally associated with the size and type of venue the valet service is setup for. Valeting at a valet company contract location (restaurants or hospitals) generally yields lower tips so $5-10 can go a long way to getting you a good spot, speedy service, and a happier more pleasant valet. Valeting at a one time event, fundraiser, or gala, $5-10 becomes average and a $20 is now the standard for getting you a good spot and speedy service.

Also, most valet’s should keep an “upfront” spot or two for patrons that want their car immediately when they are leaving or have nice enough of a car and want to show it off to other patrons entering or leaving the venue. Don’t be afraid to ask for these special spots upfront but do not park your car where you think it will be going, even though it may be 10 feet away. The valet has his dance set up the way he wants it and where you think the car should go and where the valet thinks the car should go will differ. In my experience, these spots can range from $20-$100 depending on the event and crowd. The spot at a classy restaurant that isn’t expected to have more than 75 cars in a night is less valuable than a spot at a 500+ car event.

27 Bill March 20, 2013 at 11:29 am

Make your tip divisible by 2. Why? So that you can tip using $2 bills (available at any bank). Who is the valet going to remember more…the guy who handed him a 10 or the guy who handed him five 2 dollar bills?

28 M K March 20, 2013 at 11:32 am

Thanks for the article! I’ve always been hesitant to use valet when going out, mostly because they cause extra (I’m a cheap grad student) and sometimes simply because I’m not sure how much to tip. This article certainly clears things up!

29 Mac March 20, 2013 at 11:37 am

Lol this is useful information and makes me realize how much of a complete yokel I acted like at the Biltmore in Phoenix last fall. Oh well I’ll do better next time

30 Brian Severns March 20, 2013 at 11:46 am

One comment – some cities like New York have laws against leaving your car running on the street or, especially, in an underground garage where air quality may be an issue. In these situations it may be appropriate to shut the car off while waiting for the valet service.

31 Aaron March 20, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Great article! As a former valet for a 5 star property, high tech. and luxury cars were the norm. This may not apply to too many folks for a few years, but for those with remote start/push button ignition be sure to leave the remote-key on the dash board so the valet knows where it is. Most of these cars continue to run without the remote-key nearby. Nobody wants to chase you down while your car is running in a busy drop-off because the key/remote is in your pocket. Likewise, you could give the morning valet a heart attack if you ask him to bring up your car and he mistakenly assumes that the key was lost when -in reality- it’s just still in your jacket pocket.

Also, if you drive a convertible, that’s really awesome, but please put the top in the upward and locked position; or instruct the valet how to operate it if you want it back down when you pick up the car. We want to keep your car secure just as much as you do. I recall one evening struggling for nearly half an hour before figuring out how to put the top up on a VW (I think that I finally found the button under the arm rest).

32 Ara Bedrossian March 20, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Whenever I do valet, which is not often, I like to remind myself: you’re handing over your car, so don’t feel rushed, and don’t assume anything.

33 Scott March 20, 2013 at 12:48 pm

“…He pulled out a $5 bill and said, ‘Don’t you think you can find a spot?’ And I said, ‘Not for 5 bucks I can’t.’ So I got a $20 tip from that guy and I found a spot for his car.”

Am I the only one who finds this kind of brazen demand for a higher tip extremely uncouth? Either you have a spot or you don’t; the situation shouldn’t be used to extort money from a customer.

34 Dan March 20, 2013 at 2:17 pm

A couple caveats before my comments. 1) I only use a valet when parking myself is impossible or extremely inconvenient. 2) I had many service industry jobs as second jobs where tips made up the majority of my pay while I was single and in the Army. I am not a chincy tipper because of it. 20% is what I leave for average wait service, more for good service. 3) My comments are directed at the other comments and not the article. I appreciate the intent of the article and, as always, well done Mr. McKay.
Let’s add perspective. If the average valet handles 5 cars an hour (I would imagine that is normal to low) with an average 2 dollar tip that makes 10 in tips and 4 in wages; 14/ hour total. That’s 30k per year based on a 40 hour week which is very respectable for a valet. If you want to make more than that get a degree, certification, specialized skill or get a job as a valet in Vegas apparently.
As a waiter, I didn’t hold it against everyone for not tipping me well. Sometimes it is cultural, sometimes they may not have much money, and sometimes they are just an a-hole but in the big scheme of things it all averages out. The people I waited on that were prior waiters themselves always made up for the bad tippers. Please don’t come at me with the argument “If they can’t afford the tip they shouldn’t be eating out/ parking a car/ getting a coffee.” You have a job, do it. You can’t know their situation nor should you worry about it. In many cases the people who tip the most are those that can afford it the least.
If you as a valet can justify vandalizing a car because of a low tip you have no code and shouldn’t consider yourself a positive addition to society. Try not to have children.
Why should the fact that a car is an expensive piece of equipment be an argument for a fat tip? I entrust my mechanic who makes less than 20/ hour with my car. Should I tip him when I drop it off and pick it up? My children’s bus driver probably only makes 10/ hour yet my children are infinitely more valuable than my car. Should I tip her every morning and afternoon?
I think 2 dollars per car per contact is more than fair if you just want your car parked and brought back to you. Pay more for “better service” if you want. I agree with the poster above that said treating service people kindness and respect is even more important.

35 Eric March 20, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Leaving a restaurant after a simple non-event dinner one night, I tipped the valet $5 when I approached my car to get in. He took it, looked at it then smirked and said, “Should have guessed by your car this is all I would get.” I looked at him square in the eye then snatched the $5 out of his hand, got in and drove away. I don’t use the valet anymore.

36 Ryan March 20, 2013 at 3:37 pm

I can’t trust Valet’s after seeing Ferris Bueller’s Day off.

37 Levi March 20, 2013 at 4:45 pm

I currently valet at a nice hotel. Everything you said in the article is spot on.

Being nice to the valet is the easiest way to get good service. It makes me happy when someone gives me a good handshake and a sincere thank you even if they tip a dollar.

I hate the stereotype that valets are sleazy. In the few years I’ve been with my company, there was only one guy who I would have even guessed would have stolen from a car. Ferris Bueller did us no favors.

Joe with the motorcycle – as much as I would love to, we don’t park bikes. At our hotel, we are more than happy to let you park it in our garage, but we have to go with you each time to grab it. I recommend calling your hotel to ask their specific policy.

Thanks again for the awesome article. I might post it at work.

If you want a good spot in the garage, just ask. We’ll probably accommodate. Understand that it may take a little longer to get your car because that means we’ve put it farther away.

Also, if you’re visiting a nice hotel, own it. I can’t tell you how many people say, “we never stay at places like this”, or “you don’t need to grab my door”, or “let me get those bags”. Don’t do this. It’s our job and not letting us do it ruins the flow more than just stepping back and letting us work.

38 Dan March 20, 2013 at 6:09 pm

In Oz we don’t often tip but a Valet would be an exception, thing is we don’t have $1 and $2 notes so handing over a few dollars in coins makes you feel stingy. $5 is our smallest not denomination which means we are immediately at the top of the average if we hand over a note. But then everything is more expensive here.

39 Ed March 20, 2013 at 6:45 pm

There are a couple of situations that you haven’t addressed.
First: You arrive at the hotel where you have made reservations and there is no self parking option, they are charging extra on top of the already high peak season rate, and you were not informed of this extra charge at the time the reservation was made even though you made it plain you were on a multi-state tour by motorcycle [Gold Wing].
Second: The valet service has nobody licensed to operate your $20,000 + motorcycle, no insurance to cover when they drop the 700+ pound Luxury Touring Class Machine, and the person in charge can’t make a decision on what to do. My standard response is, you can park it but if you break it, you just bought it and also explain that the machine weighs twice as much as a Harley-Davidson. They invariably direct me to a nice roomy parking spot that is convenient to the entryway to the event.

40 Paul Kyriazi March 20, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Very accurate and detailed. There is the old arrgument about tipping the valet both times or only on pick-up. I always tip both times for the reasons in this article.Good, concise writing.

41 Mike March 21, 2013 at 12:45 am

I’ve been doing valet parking for about 7 years to earn extra cash on the side. I completely understand those who disagree with “tipping culture” or whatever, but you obviously have never worked in an environment that operates on tips. That type of business is a hustle, and if you don’t know how to play the game you’ll end up losing. You may think that you deserve excellent service for nothing, but when you are one of 200-300 faces I see in a night, you are going to be completely insignificant if you don’t make yourself stand out. How you plan to do that is up to you, but in the valet business the way to earn positive notice is by being a big tipper because we do this to make money. I extend politeness and generosity to every customer, but when it comes to pleasing above and beyond I give preference to those that speak my language.

42 Will March 21, 2013 at 12:12 pm

If you have automatic lights and are parking at night, the valet might turn them off and on rather than keeping them at their usual settings. Something to be mindful of

43 Tank March 21, 2013 at 12:45 pm

@Ed – I can appreciate your situation but the elitist attitude is uncalled for. The Goldwing is a premium machine but it is hardly twice the weight of a Harley Davidson, an Electra Glide Ultra has a running weight of 889 lbs. No matter the bike, I am not handing it over to anyone else.

44 Tim March 21, 2013 at 2:36 pm

When I was young, broke, and driving hand me downs, I had no reason to go to places that had valet service. Now that I have myself a much nicer car, I’m worried about whether they’ll damage it. After reading a Jalopnik article ( from a former valet, I’m hesitant to leave my car with them.

To all the valet’s on this post, would you leave your Porsche with your co-workers?

45 Jeff R March 21, 2013 at 9:12 pm

So what should I do if I don’t have cash on me? With credit cards these days I have no reason to carry cash. I try to keep some cash on me, but sometimes I find my self in a situation where I don’t have any and I wasnt expecting valet service. There’s not always an ATM nearby and if there is I don’t want to tip $20 for my average car. I’m only 25… not some high roller. Thoughts???

46 Joseph March 22, 2013 at 2:30 am

If I can have the foresight to put on nice clothes to go out to a fancy restaurant for dinner, I can also have the foresight of getting a bit of cash in the proper denominations to tip the waitress and valet.

47 Mike March 22, 2013 at 11:19 am

Good article on a practical subject.
I generally follow the advice given. One thing I dislike is valets who change the radio/XM settings when they park the car. And don’t change them back! That feels weird and violates my space. Leave your mitts off the radio!

48 Dan March 22, 2013 at 11:22 am

A lot of good comments here. I spent a few years as a valet at a nice hotel, so I love to see some of the myths dispelled.

To clarify a few posts about motorcycles: valets shouldn’t take them. If they offer to take it, don’t let them, they aren’t supposed to. The insurance that valet services have doesn’t cover bikes (maybe some do, but I’ve never seen it).

Also, in regards to Ferris Bueller and that terrible article on Jalopnik: real valets don’t act like that. Sure you always get a few bad apples, but the majority of valets are responsible, professional people.

49 Ed March 22, 2013 at 9:16 pm

No elitist attitude meant .
If you talk with your insurance underwriter you will most likely find that your Electra-Glide falls into the same insurance category as the Gold Wing, which is “Luxury Touring Class”.
Even if a valet has a proper class license the likelihood is that their experience is with lightweight sport class bikes or dual-sport and off road bikes.
The low speed handling characteristics are a lot different for a full dress touring bike than for the lightweights, which can get somebody in expensive trouble very quickly when they put a foot down and can’t catch the weight.
Ride Safe

50 alan stemp March 22, 2013 at 10:31 pm

for the guy who whined about “tipping all the time,” go ahead and calculate what the business would have to pay the guy to do the job and earn a living, then think about what you’d have to pay the business so that the businessman could afford to pay the guy, and don’t forget to calculate your share of taxes, insurance, work comp, lawsuits, and all the other nice things that ultimately come out of the customer’s pocket.

Then walk 5 blocks to get to your car at night in the city, ’cause you’re too cheap to actually pay for the full valet service.


51 jeffersonianideal March 23, 2013 at 8:53 am

If you make the foolish decision to turn your expensive (or modestly priced) car over to a snot-nosed punk who will gun the accelerator, jam on the brakes, slam the car door or worse, you have already crossed the Rubicon line into idiocy. This is the art of being a moax, not a man.

I have witnessed enough abuses of automobiles by valet parking attendants to provide ample material for a reality TV show. These irresponsible dregs are as vacuous as prison guards but twice as hungry for autocratic power.

A psychological study should be conducted to determine why people would reflexively permit total strangers to enter and operate their motor vehicles when many of these same car owners won’t permit their own blood relatives to get within touching distance of the car key.

52 Ed Rooney March 24, 2013 at 10:48 am

Former valet here…
-Don’t be the tool that hands the valet a dollar bill folded up fifty times. You’re not fooling anyone. Nobody who’s tipping ten bucks folds the ten. The guy tipping a buck ALWAYS folds it several times.

-Don’t give the valet a lengthy lesson about how to use your car’s “very unique” remote start. You aren’t that special, we’ve driven cars like yours hundreds of times.

-Don’t ask for special service, an upfront parking space, etc if you aren’t willing to cough up some cash upfront. Like someone else said, money talks and bullshit walks.

-If you are a shitty tipper, we will remember that. Same with good tippers.

53 Henry March 24, 2013 at 11:48 pm

Thanks for the great article!

You said “Tip all the folks who had a hand in your valet service.” Does that typically include the head valet who you pay and get your ticket from, even if they didn’t park or retrieve your vehicle?

54 Bernt March 26, 2013 at 11:57 pm

I’ve been a valet for 5 years now, and I agree with much of what’s said. Other important things in no particular order:
- Respect is huge. We’re not scummy d-bags or aw-shucks is that a Benz?! idiots. Most of us college educated (or being educated), and have probably driven over 100 different makes and models of cars by the time you meet us. I want you to have a good experience, but treating me like I’m barely good enough for your car is rude.
- We know what key fobs are and how to start cars with a button.
- any tip is appreciated. More is better. If you don’t have cash, just tell us and thank us anyway. Most nights we make enough it won’t matter. Being acknowledged for a service rendered is important.
- I don’t know about other valets, but our crew never hot rods around in other people’s cars. Would you want to deal with fallout of damaging someone’s $80,000 car because you thought you were Vin Diesel? Get real!
- this one is very important: if you’re unsure of anything, just talk to us. Near as I can tell we’re all friendly people trying to do a good job. At its core valeting is customer service, so it’s not taboo to ask us questions about what to do or when (or who) to tip. We all pool our tips and split them up equally, but sometimes people aren’t sure. Just ask. I promise, it’s ok.
- I have no problem driving your old car that hasn’t been washed. Seriously. A car is a car. For a valet at a semi busy place working 3 nights a week – that valet might park 10,000 cars over a year. At a certain point you realize that cars are cars. If anything I look forward to minivans with carseats in the back because that usually means date night for a couple without their kids (at least at our restaurant), and that’s usually a good tip for us because they’re just so happy to be out.
- finally, if you do drive a car that is $50,000 or more in price, tip more than you would for coat check, at a minimum. I just don’t buy the argument that you can’t afford to give me $5 in gratuity because ‘I only drove your car’, but you can afford the needless luxury of a brand new BMW, Benz, Lexus, Rover, or what have you. Nobody needs these cars for what they do, only for what they represent.
- one last thing. When handing your ticket in, if you see a big group of people all waiting for their cars, please understand that you might not be the next one up. We get our cars first come, first served.

55 Bernt March 27, 2013 at 12:03 am

To Mike above, re: changing radio stations. Sometimes I accidentally hit a button on the steering wheel and the stations change. I know how to drive your car safely and park it – I don’t know how to figure out which button of the eight on the steering wheel I hit, and how to get it back, and to be honest I don’t have the time either. Sorry!

56 Patrick March 28, 2013 at 11:28 am

I personally have never been to a place where there was valet parking, that I was driving. I thank you for this article, makes a lot of sense, and while most of this seems common sense to me, I wouldn’t have thought about most of it.

and I recently started getting $2 bills, so I think that might be a good way to get a valet to remember you.

57 Bill April 8, 2013 at 10:51 pm

I read first and then got though most of the second paragraph and I laughed to myself quietly because I couldn’t help thinking, “I couldn’t have been that bad. If the author really wanted to feel ridiculous, he would have had to drive what I drive; a Honda Element.” Mr. Mckay, you can’t imagine how amused I was when I finished the second paragraph. . . or maybe you can.

58 bctom April 13, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Without sounding like a cheapskate. In Canada we’ve got one and two dollar coins. The smallest paper bill is a five. Handing over a coin, no matter what the denomination, feels pretty cheap. Yet five bucks both ways seems pretty rich for my ’96 Volvo. Any ideas? Or maybe I’m a cheapskate!!

59 Logan May 11, 2013 at 11:19 pm

Here’s a good way to think of tipping : Would you be more willing to work extremely hard and courteous at a job making barely enough money to survive, or would you be much happier and put in more effort to a job that pays well? It’s as simple as that. You can try fooling everybody into thinking you’re this holy person who works his ass off and is happy to be paid nearly nothing, but we all know that more money will make you a little happier about doing your job. Before you go saying they should get a degree and a better job, realize that this may be their paycheck while trying to earn that degree and/or better job.

60 Brennan June 4, 2013 at 4:44 pm

When exiting the car I always ask if the valets pool tips. If yes, then you let them know you will be tipping, if no, the have half the tip ready.
Often valet services are under a portico or overhang, and when things stack up leaving the car running results in a pool of trapped fumes. Turn it off and leave the keys when you are in a line, leaving it running is rude. Get the claim tab and let them get their job done.
If you are a no cash guy and need some change for the valet after a meal, talk to your waitress and ask her for some change in cash from your charge. Do not do this unless you leave a good tip for your server, but if you have left a decent to good tip, the server will be fine with knowing you are going to take care of another member of the staff.

61 Mo June 8, 2013 at 2:47 pm

As a valet on/ off for the past 6 years, I’ve worked a lot of different places from movie theaters to restaurant/ bars and special events. For me personally and all the valets I work with $2-4 is avg, $5 is good and $10-20+ is VIP/ celebrity treatment. We always pool our tips so it doesn’t matter who you tip and the parking charge never goes to us. That’s something the restaurant/ valet company keeps. I try my best to give everyone the best service possible, until someone gives me reason not to.

I always keep a certain amount of front spots open for the good tippers/ or for anyone that specifically asks to keep it close or if I just like your car. Regardless of your car though, if you’re a jerk to me, I have no problem putting your car in the back lot and making you wait while I run to get it at the end of the night. Honestly thought that’s the worst thing that would ever happen to your car. I’ve never vandalized a car, or plan on it. I treat everyone’s car like it’s my own, and I take of my car a lot.

Biggest pet peeves is when people talk down to me, or try to “teach” me how to drive their Prius. Honestly I’ve driven every car you can think of from $1000 hondas to $300k Ferrari/ Maserati’s.

Biggest tip though is be nice to your valet. I go above and beyond for anyone that’s nice to me. I treat my regular customers very well even if they don’t always tip the best, because I like them and they like me.

Every location I work at, Valet Parking is there as a convenience to customers because of the fact they get busy and there’s limited parking. If you don’t want it, don’t use it. At our valet only locations, I just tell people to park in the back and don’t mess up anything. A lot of people try to treat me as the enemy and I’m there just to do my job and make some money.

62 Crys June 23, 2013 at 11:40 pm

Going to a Miami hotel in August where the valet parking is $36 a day. What would be a proper tip?

63 Trey July 13, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Price is simply an economic signal about how much one desires something. The tip allow us to make the best use of our time and resources by directing it towards people that desire a high level of service. If one fails to tip, whether it be the bell man, the waiter or the valet, it lets us know that one does not care very much about the service and the employee should concentrate efforts on the people that do care and desire real effort . The number of people that service industry employees deal with is pretty high and if special service is desired one must stand out from the pack. Price, in the form of a tip, simply lets us know how to allocate our scarce time and resources.

64 Trey July 13, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Those that don’t tip never figure out what they are missing. For example when staying at a hotel if a guest has easily fixable car problem such as a dead battery or a flat tire the tippers will find a clerk or bell man that has a pair of jumper cables. If there is a more serious car problem tippers will find that the employees know an honest and reliable mechanic who might even work weekends. In that regard tipping is a form of insurance against unforeseen difficulties.

65 Mykle Beck July 13, 2013 at 8:03 pm

I’ve been a valet now for a few months so let me break this down. If you treat me right, I’ll treat you right. The people in the driveway get paid $8 an hour to hand you tickets. So tip the guy on the way out.
If you want preferential treatment, be prepared to make that investment. It’s a well orchestrated song and dance we have going, you know.

66 Carguy July 14, 2013 at 6:09 pm

It would seem that tipping the valet that takes your car well would be important. I am willing to bet that the better tippers have their cars parked in a better spot if it is available, and the valet would probably be more careful if the car and the keys came with a five or a ten. Please correct me if I am wrong.

67 Joe Sixpack July 16, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Please specify whether you should tip the valet if the hotel offer valet parking and charges $20 a day. In the event you have to tip additional, please specify are you suppose to tip the person every time you checkin/checkout the car. Perhaps you go take you car out for lunch, later on during picknic and even later on for dinner. During each trip in and out of the hotel on the same day, are you supposed to tip?

68 vstar August 16, 2013 at 4:42 am

thanks for the compliments of trustworthy, but yeah, there are some guy that like to take things from car, but it is 1000 times better to get a good reputation and the people get to know u. with a good service we spect to get a better tips, and sometimes just $1 tip makes a difference in how in ur next visit you are going to be received, and if for example, I get a hundred cars in a day, with $1 tip from each one, im going to always be happy to be working there, not saying if sometimes I get a $2 or $3 tip… but there is some people that do not give any penny xtra for the guy who took good care of your car, the car that IS your second great investment, after a house, and remember, what goes around, comes around, and you are going to recieve what you give.

69 Sonia August 23, 2013 at 11:04 am

To former Valets: Any tips on how to find out the insurance info on a valet company after the fact. We had $5k worth of damage done to our car and because of the assurances of the restaurant and valet co, we unfortunately didn’t call police. Now we’re 7 months in and getting the runaround.


70 Barry September 5, 2013 at 8:58 pm

I think I’ve used a valet service twice in my life, and I’m in my 50s. I just don’t go places. The last time was a little more than 10 years ago – a friend of mine from college was attending a professional seminar at the Amelia Island Resort, and we decided to have lunch at the resort. I had sprained my ankle a couple of days before, so I was on crutches,. I drove then a large Chevy van, which had well over 100000 miles on it. So there I was – on crutches, my big van quite conspicuous among the BMWs and Audis and I had no clue what to do in the valet line. I’m sure I was the doofus of the day.

Lunch was good, though.

71 Mike September 17, 2013 at 2:49 am

Great article! Last Friday I went to an “Over the Edge” event for Special Olympics to watch a friend do her second “Over the Edge” descent. Things in the immediate area were pretty hectic, with spectators, traffic, and all. I found a valeted parking garage just across the street. I never use valeted parking garages, so I honestly never gave tipping a thought…yep you guessed it…I inadvertently stiffed them all by not tipping. I have to go past that parking garage today. I am going to stop in there this morning and make matters right with a good tip for all concerned. One lesson learned the hard way…but learned none the less.

72 Jamie September 20, 2013 at 6:07 pm

I am taking my 93 year old father out for a steak dinner on a Saturday night in downtown Portland, Oregon. The place has been around for years and is well know. The waiters wear tuxedos and they have valet parking. The valet will need to allow me time to remove Dad’s wheelchair and put it back when we are through. Is a $5 tip each way ok? We have a 2003 Volvo and I’m living on a shoestring so I’m no high-roller.

73 Emily October 13, 2013 at 10:40 am

I just recently got a job in downtown Dallas where there is no parking. I was instructed to valet park at The Adolphus Hotel. My employer will stamp the ticket. I have not been working for 6 months and have not gotten paid yet. Am I supposed to tip the valet every day? How much is expected? I drive a ’95 Lexus. I’m already embarrassed enough using the valet at an upscale hotel, I don’t want to offend them by not tipping. This is new to me and I wasn’t given any other choice on where to park.

74 Tr October 22, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Question: If one has long-term plan (about 6 months) of staying at a hotel (which charges $15 a night) which does not having its own parking and does not have a fancy car (different rental car each week). How much tip is fair?

75 Grady March 12, 2014 at 3:14 pm

Thanks for this post. As a valet myself (side hustle) I appreciate the bit you added about tipping the guy who drops parks your car. Even a $2 tip for the guy who parks your car will go a long way and he will usually tell the other valets about it. That’s important because we handle tips communally meaning that at the end of the shift, we all throw our tips into a pot and divide them evenly. So if you take care of my partner, you’re taking care of me. There’s nothing subconscious about it either, we will go out of our way to take care of the people who have taken care of us.

Also, in a hotel, if you’re an “in-and-outer” meaning the valet is parking and retrieving your car several times a day. Please take care of your valet. Everyone I work with really hustles and it’s pretty demoralizing when you are retrieving the same care 3 or 4 times in a shift and you know you it’s not going to get you ahead at all.

A great rule of tumb for valet service tipping is a $2 tip each time a valet touches your car.

76 DDDF April 2, 2014 at 9:36 am

When I eat at a restaurant, that’s my choice so I generously tip the wait staff (usually 25% of the check.) But if a hotel forces you to use valet parking because there are no other options, that’s another situation entirely. When I stay at a hotel, I typically go out 3-4 times a day. Tipping the valet $5.00, plus the guy that parks the car another $5.00, would mean maybe $40.00 a day for a service that I would rather not even use. Parking (to include tipping) should be included for guests of the hotel, and I don’t mind in the slightest stiffing the valets. It’s the hotel that should be embarrassed for underpaying their attendants.

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