Valet parking is a service designed to eliminate the need for customers or guests to park their own vehicles. Visitors drive to a designated area and the driver receives a ticket identifying his or her vehicle. A responsible driver employed or contracted by the venue will then drive the car to a monitored parking area. When the guests are ready to leave the event, a valet coordinator will retrieve the matching car keys and a driver returns the vehicle.
There are times when an individual parking his or her own vehicle at an event can prove problematic. Inclement weather can turn the walk from the car to the venue into a messy affair, ruining expensive clothing and shoes. There may not be enough available parking near the restaurant or concert hall, meaning a long walk through city streets at night. A driver may be able to drop his or her passengers off at the entrance to an event, but he or she will still have to make a less glamorous trek from the parking lot afterwards. Because of these concerns, many upscale restaurants and venues offer valet parking.
Many upscale restaurants and clubs offer valet parking as a regular option, since it generates an air of distinction and positive customer service. Other venues may contract these services for special occasions where parking space may be at a premium or guests require VIP treatment. Valet employees may be required to wear uniforms and demonstrate a respectful attitude towards their clients, and the parking companies may also assume some responsibilities for accidents or damages to vehicles left in their care.
Valet parking is not always seen as a helpful service. Owners of expensive sports cars or luxury automobiles may not feel comfortable handing over their keys to a young driver, even one in uniform. The service has been portrayed in movies and television shows as an opportunity for employees to take unauthorized joy rides in customers' vehicles or to take unnecessary risks while parking in questionable spaces. In reality, most valet employees are fully insured, with years of driving experience.
If the venue offers valet parking as a regular service for customers, then tipping the driver or the coordinator may be expected. There is no hard and fast rule, but a valet driver generally receives the same tip amount as a coat checker or bellhop — not as much as the wait staff, but at least a few dollars for prompt and courteous service.