The Houston Valet Conundrum

Categories: Food Fight

valettsign.jpg
Photo by Mike Turnauckas
There are a lot of things Houstonians hate. Humidity. Bad barbecue. The city of Dallas.

But there are few more contentious topics in the Bayou City than valet parking.

When I first moved here, the whole valet situation was confusing to me. We're not New York City. We do have parking spaces here. Why do I need to pay a guy to park my car when the valet stand is further from the door than the closest parking space? I was mystified.

I took to Twitter and posted what I thought was a harmless tweet:

valettwittter.jpg
Turns out, I wasn't the only person confused about valet, and it was far from a new topic of discussion (and wrath) in Houston. Tweets poured in about the worst restaurants that make you valet, the incompetence of valet drivers and the absolute injustice of it all. "We're Texans," seemed to be the consensus. "Ain't nobody gonna make us do nothin'." Except, it seems, pay someone else to park our cars.

valetphoto2.jpg
Photo by Paul Sableman
The sign might as well read "DON'T FUCKING PARK HERE."
I started somewhat of a mission to figure out why valet is so popular, aside from the obvious: not enough parking spaces. It seemed to me that plenty of restaurants had the proper amount of parking spaces for their guests, but they still chose to use valet. Everyone who I talked to agreed and added his or her own anecdote about the time when some great injustice happened as a result of being forced to valet.

I heard stories of iPods being stolen, cars being scratched and money being unnecessarily spent. On Twitter, people told me about a valet driver screwing up a car because he didn't know how to drive a standard. The valet's insurance continues to give the driver the runaround. Recently, a valet driver for Corner Table restaurant made a right turn from a left lane and struck and killed a motorcyclist, igniting the debate anew. Readers claimed that some valet drivers are barely old enough to have a license, while others pointed fingers at certain ethnic groups who make up the majority of valet drivers in Houston. It's a sad story that shouldn't have turned into a discussion about valet, but it has.

Because I'd already heard so much from the public's perspective, I sought out explanations from local restaurateurs to find out the reasoning behind having valet.

My first call was to Ray Salti, the owner of Sorrel Urban Bistro and Ray's Grill, because Sorrel was the first place I encountered where the valet stand was further from the door than some of the parking spaces. I called Salti to ask him what the heck was up with that, but after hearing him out, I began to change my tune.

"We don't have valet on a regular basis," he explained, "but once we look in the computer the day before and see how many reservations there are, we call the valet guy. The reason is we have 62 spots. And when we see 180 people coming in between 11 and one...we don't want the older crowd to go park across the street and have a hard time coming in. It's based on demand."

OK, I thought. That makes sense. Perhaps there were empty spaces because I arrived early that day, but the staff anticipated that the lot would fill up soon. Restaurants who have only a certain number of assigned spaces in a specific lot use valet to fit more cars in one space than would be possible if we all parked our own cars. Valet drivers can double stack and triple stack cars, then work as a team to retrieve a vehicle once it's needed again. It would be less acceptable for a diner to interrupt someone else's meal to move a car.

Salti did admit that, like many restauranteurs, he hates valet.

"Valet is the worst thing for me," he says. "I hate it. If you're not busy, it complicates things. But we just want to give you an extra service. We started it when we first opened, but we stopped. One person who doesn't like it is enough for me."

Even though people are complaining again (or maybe they never really stopped) Salti doesn't intend to stop using valet on days when he anticipates being busy. He also likes the added security that having valet drivers watching cars provides.

I heard a similar story from Marco Wiles of Da Marco, Dolce Vita and Vinoteca Poscol. He insists that the parking situation (or lack thereof) in the neighborhood where Da Marco is located necessitates the use of valet.

"If we don't have valet we fit 10 cars, but with valet, we can fit 20 cars," Wiles says. "It's complimentary. We have a police officer there. Some people park in front of Avalon and get towed, then it's a $20 cab ride plus $220 bucks. Give the guys a couple of bucks."

The increased security coupled with free-but-not-really-cause-you-have-to-tip parking does sound like a good deal, but many Houstonians flat out don't want strangers driving their cars, no matter the perks.

Scott Sulma, general manager of Tony's, told me that they don't have much of an option but to hire valet services for the restaurant because they literally don't have a lot.

"We have the third story of the parking garage next door," he explains. "We can't ask our guests -- especially the older ones -- to walk all that way."

Location Info

Sorrel Urban Bistro

2202 W. Alabama, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Ray's Grill

8502 FM 359, Fulshear, TX

Category: Restaurant

Da Marco

1520 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Dolce Vita Pizzeria & Enoteca

500 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Vinoteca Poscol

1609 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

El Real Tex-Mex Cafe

1201 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Reef

2600 Travis St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar

2405 W. Alabama St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Mongoose Versus Cobra

1011 McGowen St., Houston, TX

Category: Music

13 Celsius Wine Bar

3000 Caroline, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

My Voice Nation Help
63 comments
fluffyelvis2
fluffyelvis2

This wouldn't happen if more people would ride motorcycles :)

Joe Kuykendall
Joe Kuykendall

Are you supposed to tip the guy that parks your car or brings it back? Lol

Renee Sapp Saur
Renee Sapp Saur

Read your article. Makes sense for some issues. Come to Sugar Land where you can arrive at a restaurant with an almost empty parking lot with red cones in front of every spot except the 10 spots as far away from the door as possible. Why can't the valet guys do the walking?

carriebwc
carriebwc

Just posted on Crisp's FB page:


Hey Heights Houston friends! We have a Special Announcement for you! Starting TODAY, Crisp will now offer Complimentary Valet Wednesday-Saturday!! Sunday-Tuesday you will be able to Self-Park in our Parking Lot. Thank you to all of our wonderful customers who continue to keep us your favorite Wine, Beer & Eatery in the Heights!

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

I have never had a problem with valet, I move the cone, I park my truck, then hand the guy at the stand a couple of $ for "watching" my vehicle......A valet Co cannot legally tow your vehicle if you are legally parked and patronizing a business where you parked....

mike_hou_texian
mike_hou_texian

First of all thank youso much for bringing this up.  Always been a pet peeve of mine. I don't like others driving my car. I've done it just not happy about it.

On a lower note, I once tried to go to Twin Peaks off 59/Kirby for lunch to see what everyone was talking about.  The free spaces vs valet was 5 to 1 I think.  Really?  A breasturant pulling this crap?  Nope.

cad34
cad34

First of all, has this writer ever worked in a restaurant?  The city makes parking ordinances very difficult on restaurants.  Maybe I should raise the price of every item I serve so I can pay $500,000 for an extra lot to park cars.  I'm sure the consumer would love that.  Valet is a choice.  You can choose to park on the street and walk.  I pay several thousand dollars a month for valet parking and pay my valets because a good majority of my customers demand valet parking.  

David627
David627

I won't go to a restaurant that has valet parking, I can park my own car. 

Anse
Anse

Why not just go to McDonald's? They have tons of parking and I've never seen a valet in the front of one. Or if you're feeling fancy, there's always Red Lobster.

Honestly, I don't mind valet, but I'd rather not bother with it, either. On the other hand, I can't say I've ever refused to patronize a restaurant because of it. And judging from the crowds at places like Coppa and Underbelly and others, plenty of folks don't mind enough to bother, either.

Ottis Spunkmeyer
Ottis Spunkmeyer

You're cheap. the valet attendant is just doing a job. it's not like he implemented himself in front of whatever establishment to park cars for fun. if you want to bitch and complain, don't go to the establishment. it's an overall experience. establishments hire the valet or contracts a valet company. the guy who left your key in your car- yes, that's his fault. but that's one guy. he doesn't represent every valet attendant in the world. i'm sure it was resolved and you have your car back. if you're still bitter, you have issues.

Peggy Lane
Peggy Lane

The reason Houston isn't as walkable as other large cities is "SUMMER". I don't want to walk or bike somewhere only show up as a hot, flushed, sweaty mess.

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

Forced valet parking forces me to dine elsewhere. I don't mind walking, but geez it's better than having an ipod stolen..

adambevo
adambevo

Why are people in Houston so scared of walking a couple of blocks?  If I go somewhere with valet, I guarantee I will find a free street spot within a 5 minute walk of where I'm going.  Getting a street spot that close in any other city is something to celebrate, but it's a horror here because we're all lazy asses.

Also, why the hell do we have parking space requirements?  If a business wants to open without any parking spots, why shouldn't they have that right?  If they're wrong, they'll go out of business.  Isn't that how capitalism works?  This is what keeps Houston from having cool, walkable neighborhoods like every other big city.

Erin494
Erin494

Flemming's does it right. Let the patrons park in front & when those spaces run out, then & ONLY then, use valet.

c5813
c5813

The gym I go to has tons of parking spots, but some of the patrons still complain to management about the lack of valet parking. I realize Houston is humid, but really???

Houstess
Houstess

Another issue:  I don't carry cash often but of course when I do, all the d#mn machines spit out are $20s.  I try to remember when going out, but many restaurant visits are not planned and I have occasionally been stuck with no small cash for a valet.  Only one time did a waiter refuse to make change for my 20 after a group spend of $100+ at the facility.  Wanker.  Why on earth would a waiter do that?   Yes, you folks who's fingers are itching to point my attention to the fact that valets can make change, I understand.  But I just want to get my car and go quickly without extended negotiation in the blazing sun with people who often don't speak English.

Doak Procter
Doak Procter

Orange cones mean "don't park here," so I comply. I go somewhere without them.

Terry Wagner
Terry Wagner

I don't valet. I used to. I had the valet lose my keys. Here I am at 2 am stranded in Houston 45 miles from my spare keys. That ordeal was enough for me to not let anyone valet my car.

tinyhands
tinyhands

The faulty assumption stems from the belief that a restaurant has no choice but to locate itself in an area that does not already have sufficient parking. Tony's GM is quoted as saying that they only have spaces on the 3rd story next door - well who told you to put your restaurant in a place that only has parking on the 3rd story next door?? How is your lack of planning or any semblance of forethought my problem that I now have to pay for?


The same can be said of virtually every restaurant in Montrose, Midtown, and the Washington corridor. YOU decided to open your restaurant in a location that is inaccessible to most people and expect us to pay for your low IQ. Oh waah, you can't afford a parking lot. Then you can't afford the restaurant space either.

nomadsheart
nomadsheart

I recently went to Southside Espresso at 4:45 in the afternoon.  I parked next to the dumpster and the valet, then setting up, said I couldn't park there.  I was already out of my car and said I would be 20 minutes and be right back.  I tossed him my keys and had a cup of Joe.  Returning, they had moved my car - a clean and respectable vehicle if not a luxury coach - across the street so that it wouldn't dim the allure of Uchi.  No, I did not leave a tip and no, I will not be going back to Uchi anytime soon because of this c**p.  El Real blocks EVERY SINGLE SPOT in the parking lot, which I find infuriating.  If I pay for Valet, they should have to park my car somewhere other than IN FRONT OF THE DOOR OF THE RESTAURANT where I am going.  For $5.00, I can do that myself if they move that damned cone. And Valet Parking at La Tapatia Wednesday to Saturday?  For $8.00 enchiladas?  This really has jumped the shark.  Valet has a proper place.  That place is, however, not every place.

carriebwc
carriebwc

Call me crazy, but I like valet.  I hate looking for a space in a crowded lot or neighborhood, and would rather pay someone to park my car.  Just my opinion, I guess.

mfsmit
mfsmit

Remember: that empty space in front of the restaurant wouldn't be empty if the valet hadn't put a cone in front of it. Rest assured that they will soon park a (nicer) car (than yours or mine) there.  Having recently come back from LA, no less car-centric a place than Houston, most every place charges at least $7 to valet, which makes the (optional) $2-3 you pay here seem cheap.

I say let's get rid of the parking minimums, and soon we'll be happy to pay a few bucks for valet parking.

Wile_E_Tex
Wile_E_Tex

Like a lot of Houstonians, I try to patronize locally owned bars and restaurants. Two that I enjoy but have begun to avoid are Coppa and CRISP due to valet issues. I have encountered the valet cones before 5pm at both places which is ridiculous. Once at CRISP, right after work, I pulled into an empty "no cone" spot near the door and the valet (who was just setting up) came running over to tell me I couldn't park there. I said "let's go inside and talk to the manager about this" and he wouldn't do that. At about that time, someone left from a spot that he said was not "valet" and I begrudgingly moved my car so that "an accident" didn't happen to it like a key scratch. I realize Coppa is sharing spaces with other businesses and CRISP is in a densely packed older neighborhood, but taking up the all the decent spaces at 4:45 is too much.I have passed through both places when it was still rather early, saw cones at each spot and chose to patronize another restaurant/bar nearby that doesn't hog spaces. I am not the only one with this opinion of these 2 places per Yelp.  

skquinn1
skquinn1

This is why I'd like to see public transit become a more viable option: park the car at a light rail station and ride the train to/from the restaurant. Granted, we are taking steps that direction, and I applaud Metro for that (December when the Northline extension to the Red Line goes in service can't come soon enough).

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@carriebwc That nice of them. The valet there never bothered me though, because they also offered self parking.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@cad34 Yes, I have worked in a restaurant, but I've never owned a restaurant, and therefore probably don't understand everything that goes into securing parking...which is why I wrote the article. I wanted to understand better, and I do. I also feel more forgiving of valet after talking to people who seem to have no other option unless they want to spend thousands to buy up empty lots and turn them into parking areas. But when people say that restaurants in Houston are required by the city to have valet, that's not technically true. There may not be other options for many, but it's not a legal requirement.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@Anse I'm not going to Red Lobster until they start taking my damn reservations.

carriebwc
carriebwc

@adambevo For me it is a safety issue, not a lazy ass issue.  Personally, if I am alone, I don't want to park back in some neighborhood, many of which don't have sidewalks and are poorly lit, and walk to and from the restaurant in the dark.  Plus, I am the world's worst parallel parker, so there is a better chance I am going to scratch my car or someone else's than the valet is.


Anse
Anse

There are few things that throw Houstonians into bitter fits faster than any issue that has to do with our beloved automobiles. Figuring out where we put the cars is always the first and most important question for any plan.

Houstess
Houstess

@c5813 And people will drive from the gym to the grocery store and follow walking people to their cars like stalkers to get the closest possible parking spot.  Never got that.

Anse
Anse

Let me understand this. You are criticizing restaurants who "choose" to open in areas with inadaquate parking. And you ask, "How is your lack of planning...my problem that I now have to pay for?"

Who in the heck made you so entitled? I'm sorry, do private businesses owe you something? Were you forced to make reservations at Tony's?

And will the typical upper-cruster who patronizes Tony's really complain about valet? I sorta figured folks who eat there would probably expect somebody to park for them.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@carriebwc Nothing wrong with that! I sense you're in the minority, but I can certainly understand. It's like having a uniform to wear to work. Don't have to think about what to wear in the morning!

ericspin
ericspin

@Wile_E_Tex I stopped going to CRISP for this reason. There's plenty of street parking, so there's no reason to have valet. 


john1914
john1914

@skquinn1 The Greenlink night loop is a nice idea because you can park at the Market Square garage and visit several spots downtown for free, but it only runs until 11. I already ride Metro from a Park & Ride in the suburbs to work, but can't on the nights when we go out because the last express from the light rail to suburbia leaves before 8PM.

It's the great transit conundrum: people would use transit more often if it were more convenient, but transit won't be more convenient until more people use it.

tinyhands
tinyhands

@Anse Who made me so entitled? The fact that I'm a customer. Yes, businesses who want to do business OWE me the courtesy of access to their business without paying for the privilege.


I'm not specifically a customer of Tony's, but that was one of the places chosen by the author for comment. Several of the restaurants in the article complain that they have no choice but to force us to valet. I say that's not a valid argument, and I have the choice to go somewhere else, which I freely and frequently exercise. Will they suffer for lack of my business? I honestly hope so, I but know they won't.

tinyhands
tinyhands

@carriebwc That was a well-thought, reasoned response. Because the only two alternatives are 150,000 restaurants crammed inside the loop with 2 parking spots each and Katy.

timblack2
timblack2 topcommenter

@KaitlinS @carriebwc I would agree. I'd just rather pay the couple bucks and drive right to the front door. Some people value time or convenience over 5 bucks. Some value the 5 bucks. Plus the wife is always in heels. No fun trudging two blocks in Montrose in those.

carriebwc
carriebwc

@ericspin Those of us who live in the neighborhood might disagree with your assessment that there is "plenty" of street parking.

Anse
Anse

No, I understand. It's a rather typical sentiment. It's not enough to say, hey, it's a free country, a businessman can do what he wants and reap the reward or pay the price later.

tinyhands
tinyhands

@Anse No, I suffer no such pretense, that a restaurateur who isn't smart enough to consider that people in a city as big as Houston might need to drive in order to dine there, and therefore care about ANY of its patrons, would care about me specifically either. If any of my previous comments have given you that impression, please brush up on your reading comprehension skills. I think it's great that you can remember other people's conversations on which you've eavesdropped, but don't confuse me with them. I've made it quite clear that business owners who can't run a business without charging me for the privilege of being their customer don't actually get my business. Based solely on the other comments here, I don't seem to be alone in this, so while I may not have any individual power, collectively we might actually make an impact.


But in case you still don't get it: Me no valet.


PS: No further replies from me on this subject. I've made my point. Argue with the wind if you like.

Anse
Anse

Perhaps you fail to grasp that "businesses who want to do business" don't really give a flip about you, specifically. Maybe you are under the delusion that your patronage is so important to the success of a business that you have the power to dictate to the city's entrepreneurs what their business practices ought to be.

I'm suddenly reminded of the lady I saw at El Rey several months back. Pissed and moaned loudly and repeatedly about how expensive it was. Complained about how ripped off she felt "every time she ate there." She, and you, apparently don't understand how the system works around here.

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

@tinyhands You apparently believe that virtually every restaurant in Montrose, Midtown, and Washington corridor shouldn't exist. People live there, people eat there.

carriebwc
carriebwc

@maxjoseph Yes, but we do have to try to maintain the grass that people ruin parking on it.  There are virtually no sidewalks in Shady Acres, and walking after dark has become a virtual bloodsport.  I am not complaining about businesses coming into the neighborhood, but the increase in cars parking there and driving through (too fast, I might add), has become a safety issue that needs to be addressed.

Now Trending

From the Vault

 

Loading...