Valet parking has been a tradition in the United States since the early 20th century. It involves paying an attendant or valet to park and retrieve your vehicle when arriving at or leaving a destination. Valet service is commonly offered at hotels, restaurants, events, airports, and other busy venues.
Tipping is customary when using valet parking services in the US. The appropriate amount to tip a valet attendant can vary based on several factors.
This article will overview standard tipping practices, etiquette, and recommendations for valet services nationwide. Understanding customary tip amounts and when it’s appropriate to pay above or below the norm can help ensure you are tipping valet staff fairly based on the service and situation.
Average Tip Amount
The standard tip for valet parking in the US is generally 15-20% of your valet parking charge. For example, if the valet parking fee is $10, you would tip $2 (20% of $10). This 15-20% tip range is considered a fair valet service tip.
Some tip a flat $2-5 per valet interaction regardless of parking price. However, basing the tip on a percentage of the valet fee better reflects the service received. A $2 tip might be adequate for a $10 parking fee, but it would be on the low end for a $50 fee.
Tipping 15-20% is a simple way to provide an appropriate tip tailored to the specific parking rate.
Factors Influencing Tip Amount
How much you tip a valet often depends on various factors, such as service quality, vehicle type, and weather conditions.
The main factor is the service quality, as better service deserves a higher tip. Valets who are friendly, efficient, and careful with your vehicle should receive more than the bare minimum.
Tipping on the higher end is warranted if they provide exceptional service by placing seat covers, storing luggage, or bringing your car up fast during bad weather.
The type and value of your vehicle may also impact your tip amount. If you have an expensive luxury or sports car, tipping more shows appreciation for the extra care and attention valets give those cars. However, even drivers of standard vehicles should tip well for excellent service.
Inclement weather like rain, snow, heat, or cold can make a valet’s job much harder. If valets work in extreme temperatures or precipitation to get your vehicle promptly, tipping above 15% or $5 is a nice gesture. Valets may also take extra care to keep the interior and exterior of your car clean in bad weather.
When using valet parking, it’s important to follow proper tipping etiquette. Here are some key tips for tipping valet attendants appropriately:
- Hand cash tip directly to valet – Don’t just leave a tip on the seat. Hand the cash directly to the valet attendant when you pick up your car. This ensures the right person gets the gratuity.
- Tip when picking up car – It’s customary to tip the valet when you retrieve your car, not when you drop it off. Valets appreciate being tipped at the end as a thank you for retrieving your vehicle quickly and handling it carefully.
- Be polite and respectful – A smile and kind words when tipping show your appreciation. Valets often work long hours in extreme weather. A friendly demeanor can go a long way.
- Tip each valet – If one valet parks your car and another retrieves it, tip both. Both provided helpful service.
- Cash tips preferred – Valets always prefer cash tips over in-app or digital tips. Cash ensures the valet gets the full gratuity amount.
Properly tipping valet attendants is an important part of the etiquette around using valet parking. Following these tips helps ensure valets feel appropriately thanked for their services.
A typical valet tip in the United States ranges from $2-5.
This amount is standard for everyday valet service at most restaurants, hotels, and other establishments.
For luxury vehicles like sports cars or high-end sedans, tips up to $20 are appropriate, especially if the valet provides exceptional service like door-to-door pickup. However, the average tip still falls around $5 for standard valet service.
Some factors that influence where in the range to tip include the type of establishment, difficulty of parking job, attitude and attentiveness of the valet, and your finances. If the valet parks in an open lot, a tip around $2 is fine.
But for valets maneuvering through tight spaces, $5 or more shows appreciation for their effort. Ultimately, tip what you can afford and feel is fair for the service. The range gives flexibility based on the circumstances.
Alternatives to Cash Tips
While cash tips are standard, many valet services allow you to add a tip when paying by debit or credit card. When you return to pick up your car, the valet will usually hand you a receipt with a tip line where you can write in an amount or select a percentage tip. This is convenient if you need cash available or prefer not to carry cash. Some key things to know:
- Check your receipt and fill in the tip amount before signing. Once signed, you cannot adjust the tip.
- Tips added to a card are processed similarly to restaurant tips. The money does not go directly to the valet who parked your car. Instead, it gets pooled and distributed based on hours worked.
- If paying by card, feel free to tip extra in cash. The tip you add to the card is sufficient.
- Not all valet services can process card tips. Cash is your only option if the receipt doesn’t have a tip line.
- Some mobile payment apps like Square allow you to tip when paying for valet through the app. But not all valets accept mobile pay, so cash is safer.
Adding a tip to your card is convenient if you don’t have cash and can tip a percentage. Just be sure to fill in the tip amount before signing the receipt.
Peak Times to Tip
During the holidays, tipping valets tend to be more generous. Holidays like Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, and the 4th of July are very busy for hotels and restaurants. As a result, valets are working long hours in poor weather conditions, dealing with large volumes of cars. It’s courteous to provide an extra tip or a larger tip amount during the holidays to show your gratitude for their hard work and long hours.
Special events like weddings, conferences, concerts, and sporting events also tend to have increased valet demand. Attendees want to minimize the time to get their vehicle, so they tip more generously on arrival.
Bad weather is another peak time for valets. During heavy rain or snow, valets endure the elements to park and retrieve vehicles. Tipping a little extra during inclement weather is a nice way to show appreciation for their efforts.
Overall, peak times with higher valet demand or tougher working conditions warrant more generous tipping.
Valet vs. Self-Park
When deciding between valet parking or self-parking, there are several factors to consider beyond just the cost:
Convenience – Valet parking is often much more convenient than self-parking, especially at busy venues where parking spots may be scarce. You can pull up, hand your keys to the valet, and not worry about circling for a spot. When leaving, your car will be waiting and ready to go. This saves time and avoids the hassle of parking yourself.
Security – Valet parking often provides enhanced security over self-parking, especially at night. Your vehicle is under supervision rather than sitting unattended in a dark parking lot or garage. Some valet vehicles park in secure gated areas not accessible to the public.
Weather protection – Valet parking means you can be dropped off and picked up at the venue’s entrance, avoiding long outdoor walks in extreme weather, whether cold, rainy, or hot sun. Self-parking may involve a trek across a large uncovered lot or parking garage levels.
Cost – There is almost always an added cost for valet parking, from $5 to $20+ peruse. It’s important to keep in mind that this expense can accumulate rapidly and must be considered while planning your budget. With self-parking, there is either no charge, a minimal hourly rate, or a flat event rate.
When deciding, weigh the benefits of convenience and security vs. the extra cost. Splurging on valet parking may be worth it for special events or inclement weather. But for everyday use or a shortstop, self-parking is likely the better value. Consider your individual needs and priorities.
Tipping Laws and Regulations
Rules regarding tipping can vary across different states and cities in the United States. Here are some key laws and regulations to keep in mind related to valet tipping:
- Federal Law – The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that employers of tipped employees pay a cash wage of at least $2.13/hour. Tips are meant to make up the difference between that cash wage and the current federal minimum wage.
- State Laws – Some states like California, Alaska, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Minnesota do not allow a tip credit. Employers in these states must pay the full state minimum wage to tipped employees regardless of how much they receive in tips.
- Local Laws – Many cities and municipalities have implemented their minimum wage and tipping ordinances. For example, New York City amended its tip regulations in 2022 to clarify that service charges are not the same as gratuities. Gratuities belong solely to the worker, while the business can use service charges.
- Tip Pooling – Federal law allows employers to institute mandatory tip pools to distribute tips amongst customarily tipped employees. Rules vary by state on which employees can participate in the pool. Many states also allow voluntary tip pooling initiated by employees.
- Tip Retention – Tips are considered the property of the tipped employee. Employers cannot legally take a cut or percentage of tips. Retention of any tips by management is prohibited.
Keep these laws and regulations in mind when tipping valet services. While tipping customs and norms play a large role, legal protections regarding gratuities exist in some areas.
Tipping a valet in the United States is a common practice. Still, the appropriate amount can vary depending on several factors.
When deciding how much to tip your valet, consider the service, location, and budget. While there are no hard rules, the standard tip amount ranges from $2-$5 per car for basic valet service.
For the best experience, have small bills ready when retrieving your vehicle. Cash tips are customary, though some locations accept credit cards or digital tips through apps. Avoid undertipping – while not legally required, like restaurant tips, valet tips are an important part of compensation.
If service was exceptional, tipping above standard rates is a nice gesture. When in doubt, lean toward the higher end of the recommended $2-$5 per car tipping range. You can show appreciation for quality valet service with the right tip amount.