Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Carjacking Versus Valet Parking

Like a lot of people, we did some traveling over the holidays. That can only mean one thing: another episode of Great Moments in Customer Service!

One night, my brother and his wife treated the entire immediate family to dinner at an upscale steak house which we shall refer to as Ruth's Chris because that was the name of it. After a fantastic evening of great food, drink and cheer, we ambled to the parking lot where the alert valet had already brought our cars up. Except for one.

My brother and sister-in-law were the last to leave. As they looked around for their car, the valet mumbled something like, "I'm sorry. I can't find your keys."

Now I'm not an expert, but I would think that the most important thing they teach you in valet training is to always secure the keys. Sure, parking and retrieving the car are important, but really, the whole enterprise falls apart if you don't secure the keys. Instead, his training apparently consisted of:

A. How to burn rubber
B. How to fishtail the car in reverse into a parking space
C. How to jump curbs and do wheelies in SUVs.
D. Always remember to change the radio station to something awful and crank up the volume
E. Scour for loose change in the seats
F. If we have time, we'll teach you how to store the keys

You might think, "Yes, that was an unfortunate incident, but you just get the spare keys, and it's just a minor headache."

But it was much worse.

Imagine Monty Hall came into the parking lot during dinner to play "Let's Make a Deal" with the valet. Monty tells the valet, "I will let you pick any car on the lot, and you will give me the keys to that car. If by the end of the night, that car owner is still able to leave in a timely manner, I will give you what's behind door number three. If not, you get the goat behind door number two, and you're fired."

A smart valet would probably pick an older vehicle which perhaps he could get into with a coat hanger and then hotwire so the owner could eventually leave. Unfortunately, this valet picked my brother's car which was probably the worst possible choice because:

A. The car was very expensive
B. It had one of those new fangled computer programmed locks where you can't even insert the key in the door (much less a coat hanger)
C. The spare key was 400 miles away
D. My brother had to leave town the next morning (preferably in his own car)
E. My brother and sister-in-law are lawyers

After awhile, there wasn't much more the apologetic valet could do other than grovel. My brother approached the manager of the steak house to notify him of the incident. Having just spent a few grand on dinner, he thought maybe the manager of an upscale joint would send out some cooks and servers to search the parking lot for the missing key. But apparently upscale does not translate to this steak house's service. The manager responded more like the manner of service you could expect from an airline, the DMV, Leavenworth prison, or maybe North Korea.

The manager simply noted that the valet service was a contractor, and the restaurant had nothing to do with it. Sure that's all nice and legal, but you're pretty much admitting that one night you might have valet parking and the next night it just might be carjackers. You just never know.

My brother ended up with a rental car to drive home. They towed his car to the nearest dealership where it had to wait three days to get a new key properly programmed. Then the car had to be transported 400 miles to his home where it now happily resides once again.

On the bright side, I learned that you are not necessarily being cheap by avoiding valet parking, because apparently what goes on in a Ruth's Chris parking lot, stays in the parking lot. Unless it's your keys.


  1. Holy-Dooly (and I'm trying my hardest to be polite here and not say the words I'm thinking)!! Wow! I would've been madder than all the Mad Hatters put together! What a stuff up! I bet you'll be going back there again in a hurry...not!

    Boy! Oh! Boy!

    1. Well if we do go back, we'll park ourselves. I'm more concerned that this is the second bad experience when my brother has treated everyone to a steakhouse dinner. He may never do it again. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Well, at least your brother can act as his own lawyer when he sues the valet company. See -- there's a silver lining to every cloud!

  3. You are KIDDING ME. Nice that the restaurant made you feel like valued customers, too. Yelp reviews come to mind.