Travel Tips for Valet Parking

As I slide out of my car and offer the car keys to the valet, I wonder yet again: “Should I be tipping now or only upon retrieving my car?” After countless car rentals, hotel stays and parking experiences, you think I would have this tipping thing down pat. Alas, not yet. I keep looking for the hard and fast rulebook and it just doesn’t exist.

When I ask various hoteliers, restaurant staff and valet attendants “What is the protocol for valet tipping – give a tip as I drop off the car, pick up the car, both or neither?” the answer I get is always the same:  “Tipping is optional. It is up to you on what you would like to do.”

I also ask fellow business travelers to see what they can tell me. Surely their travel polices must give guidance on tipping. No such luck, and most are as confused on tipping, especially the expense reporting side of things, as I am.

Arghh! This is NOT the answer I want. With a Masters in Accounting, I want rules – an objective formula that works each and every time.

Tip at drop off + Tip at pickup = Safe, secure and scratch-free car.
No tip at drop off + Tip at pickup = still, a safe, secure and scratch-free car.
No tip at drop off + No tip at pickup = Now-bumperless car.

Seriously, I hope and trust that valet parkers and garage attendants, whether at a hotel, restaurant or other place of business, do their best with each and every car – whether they get tipped or not. Though being a realist, I am sure that there may be a scratch or two purposely established in a side door panel of a recurrent non-tipper now and then.

So how do you tip the folks in this service-based business?

Here is the best I can conclude for the rules of the road, so to say, for how to tip when using valet parking in the U.S.:

  • Tipping upon drop-off of your car is totally optional and is not done by the majority of drivers. Tip your valet when your car is returned to you from the parking lot.
  • A tip of $1 to $5 is the typical range, with $2-3 being most common.
  • Whether the parking price is free or not, the tipping guidelines remain the same.
  • If you are coming and going throughout the day, such as during a hotel stay, tip some of the time but not necessarily all of the time (perhaps tip once for every two departures).
  • Do not tip if you do not like the service.

Add more to your tip if:

  • Weather is bad (tipping upon drop-off in this situation might be the nice thing to do);
  • You are helped with a large amount of luggage;
  • You ask for a certain parking spot for extra-special care;
  • You are helped with a special needs passenger;
  • You ask to have the car brought around over and over to get something out of it;
  • Your car is a disaster area where the valet may contract a disease just by sitting in the seat.

These are de minimis cash expenses and, if part of a business trip, can be recorded as an expense (though check with your travel management team and/or tax advisor on this).

When visiting a country other than the U.S., it is wise to look up the local tipping customs because these guidelines may all be different.

There! We have now created the Tips for Valet Parking Rulebook (or at least a rulebook with lots of conditions!). Now go forth and be confident in your valet tipping!

P.S. If you need small bills for tipping, ask at the front desk if parking at a hotel. It is also okay to hand the valet a $5 and ask for $2 or $3 back, though to avoid any hassle or delay I try to have the small bills with me.