Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Valet parking: increasingly compulsory and increasingly annoying

The Chronicle's Loren Steffy, writes about the new valet parking service at Hobby airport and laments ongoing "valet creep" in Houston:
Now, I’m not a fan of valets, but I don’t begrudge the service to people who like it. What I resent is when the valets then claim the closest spaces in what seems like an attempt to force more people to use their service.
I'm not a big fan of valets, either. I generally don't like to pay for the privilege of entrusting my motor vehicle to a complete stranger. However, a service that was once the exclusive purview of high-end restaurants and hotels is now ubiquitous and, increasingly, unavoidable. I can understand valet service in situations where available parking is quite limited and/or distant from the establishment, but more often than not it's simply gratuitous.

Restaurants, even ones with plenty of parking, seem to be the worst offenders. By reserving the parking spots closest to the entrance for valet parking they are essentially saying to their customers, "sure, if you don't want to use (and pay for) our valet service, be our guest: the self-parking is all the way around in back and a good five-minute walk to our main entrance." And that's when they actually provide self-parking; many restaurants reserve so much of their lots to valets that self-parking is essentially impossible. Places that do this generally don't see a lot of return business from me, but I guess they think that the benefits of forcing patrons to valet outweigh the costs.

Valet service in strip center parking lots is especially annoying. I don't know how many times I've pulled into the lot in a Midtown strip center, only to discover that there's no place to park because the valet service for the glitzy, trendy bar next to the restaurant or store I want to patronize has taken up so much of the strip center's parking spaces. In addition to being highly frustrating, it's also costing the adjacent establishment business. Which might be precisely what the valet companies want, in order to get them to use their services too.

Restaurants and bars aren't the only offenders; a few weeks ago I went to a doctor's appointment in the Texas Medical Center. The bottom two floors of the garage I parked in were reserved for valets, which meant I had to park on an upper floor and take a longer walk to my doctor's office. Gee, thanks!
Valets, of course, are handy in situations where parking is limited, the weather is bad, or time is short. But too often, it’s more exploitation than service. It’s a parking fee disguised as convenience. And the creeping occurrences of overwrought valetism seem to be growing.
The way to combat valet creep is to not use valet services when a choice is available, and to stop patronizing establishments for which valet parking is compulsory. But somehow, I don't expect this trend to reverse itself anytime soon.

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