This was the scene recently outside a South Florida hotel: Two guests asked a parking attendant to recommend a good, nearby steak restaurant. The attendant answered, “I’m not from around here so I don’t know.”
It gets worse. There was a first-class steak restaurant (and other eateries) less than one-half mile from the hotel.
That’s not a good look for any hotel or resort whose main goals are high levels of customer service. That service often begins (and ends) with parking attendants. They set the tone (positive or negative) for the quality of guest service to come and the quality of guest service to remember.
“If the arrival at the valet goes well, with no wait, courteous service and a warm and energetic welcome, the right tone is set for the rest of the stay,” said Charles Fisher, resort manager at The Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World. “When looking at the departure, it is again an amazing opportunity to ‘wow’ the guest and set the last impression of the resort.”
In other words, “I don’t know” is never the correct answer.
“Valet is really an essential hub to transform moments into memories. It’s much more than a one-time service, but rather a relationship,” said Jason Cabrera, director of rooms at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando.
Quality parking valet service, said Robert Stanfield, managing director at Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, doesn’t necessarily retain business, but a property could lose business because of poor parking service.
“If there is a negative service action—like there could be in anywhere in the hotel—that might sway people not to come back,” Stanfield said. “We think it’s important that we do it right.”
Ryan Steele, director of operations at Loews Miami Beach Hotel—which has one of the largest entrances and exits among South Beach hotels—said quality valet parking service is “a critical cornerstone” to each guest of the hotel.
“Be fast, be friendly, be knowledgeable, be efficient, be genuine,” Steele said.
It’s commonplace these days for hotels and resorts, particularly in Orlando, to partner with a third-party vendor to supply insured, trained and qualified parking attendants.
The Omni Orlando at ChampionsGate, just a few miles west of the city’s theme parks area, is one of those properties. “Many of the folks [at the third-party vendor] come from the hotel side, so they understand the needs and requirements,” Stanfield said.
Although the attendants technically work for the third-party vendor, they are incorporated as much as
possible into hotel staff.
For example, the parking attendant leaders at Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate participate in the resort’s morning training sessions with its other department team leaders.
“That’s so they can communicate as to how many people are coming to the hotels, who the VIPs are, and what’s happening at the hotel,” Stanfield said.
The Four Seasons Orlando, which also uses a third-party vendor, puts each parking attendant through its “Embark” introductory training program whereby each employee is provided a property tour, introduction to the basics of valet operations and how it integrates with the rest of the resort's operations. Employees follow a custom-made Four Seasons Orlando training guide—once the employee gets comfortable with the valet operations, he/she is then further integrated to the guest experience in general.
A major advantage to working with a third-party vendor is flexibility in the ability to get as many parking attendants as necessary any day of the week.
“If we operated our parking and have 25 people and have a big day, we’d only have 25,” Stanfield said. “What [the third-party] is able to do is pull from other places and get people who are insured and qualified.”
How does a property decide to use “in-house” valets or contract with a valet company?
“Consideration is given to the market and labor availability within the area. In our case, since a large percentage of hotels and resorts in Orlando have a third-party managing their valet operations, it was natural for us to partner with what we found to be the best valet company,” Fisher said. “Using a third-party also gives us the flexibility to access help (human resources) on days we need most, when we may have large events on property.”
The key to aligning with a third-party operator, Steele said, is find one whose company core values mirror those of your property.
“They must be able to execute your vision of arrival and departure experiences,” Steele said. “The valet team undergoes weeks of cultural and technical training. In addition, they are trained on all of the concierge’s local ‘in the know’ tips. Valet attendants are essentially concierge associates who also park cars and welcome our guests.”