Baby, You Can't Drive My Car

Of valets and violations

Thus far, standard operating procedures would seem to indicate that the patron pays through the nose while the restaurateurs in general get by with finances intact. But since valet fees do tend to reflect on a restaurant -- and whether a customer will return to eat there -- some, like Chrysanthemum when it was on South Beach, subsidize the valet companies' fees. In the end the valet situation, which cost the restaurant about $10,000 per month, was one of the primary reasons Chrysanthemum relocated to Coconut Grove.

Obviously we have little control over how much we are being charged to valet our cars. But we can help to minimize the theft of our belongings. Frias suggests we never leave money in the car. "Some people leave money as a test for us," he acknowledges. "But you really shouldn't leave cash. If I see it I ask the customer to take it with him. And never leave your luggage. Our lots are supervised but not all of them are."

If we are going to leave something of value in our cars, Frias says, we should simply tell the valet. "The best rule is to tell the person this is what I'm leaving in my car -- then show them the phone, show them the jacket. We write it on the back of the ticket; then when you get back you check your car. Once you leave, the valet company is no longer liable for anything.

"People will often tell me: “I have a gun under the seat, please don't touch it.' At that point I prefer them to show it to me, so if it comes up missing later I have some knowledge of it. Otherwise it's their word against mine."

And no, it's not unusual for folks to leave weapons in their cars. One former valet who didn't want to be named told me he once reached for what he thought was a hand brake and came up with a loaded Glock in his fist. And it works both ways. Frias mentions a recent incident where a Tantra customer claimed the valet had scratched the door. Frias wrote out an incident report so the patron's insurance company could contact AAA Parking's insurance company for compensation. But the patron returned later that evening to apologize. "He told me that the scratch had already been there. But his friends had made him accuse us because it was a rental car and they wanted insurance to pay for it," Frias explains.

Of course job stress in no way excuses the valets who are stealing. And there isn't any reason why valets should be making bets among themselves, as one chef told me often happens, when they spy a woman in a skirt exiting an SUV. "They'll bet to see if she's got any underwear on," he says. Which means, I guess, that not only am I going to have to start keeping my car clean and my compact discs at home, but damn, I'm also going to have to start wearing panties.

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