The Truth About Las Vegas Valets – Everything You Need to Know
We trust valets with one of our most expensive pieces of property—our car. But what’s the truth about Las Vegas valets and what they actually do?
Before we dive into the role of Las Vegas valets, let’s look at what the dictionary has to say about the job in general.
- a man’s personal male attendant, responsible for his clothes and appearance.
- (NORTH AMERICAN) a person employed to park cars.
I’m not sure whether the Oxford Dictionary is playing it straight or is making some sort of snarky observation about North America, but it is true that when you say “valet,” most North Americans immediately think of a young uniformed man or woman who takes your keys and drives away in your car.
Did you get his or her name? No, you did not. Will he bring it back when you request it, and will it be in the same condition as when you surrendered it? Well, that remains to be seen, now, doesn’t it?
Enjoy your stay.
How Valet Parking Works
Here’s all you need to know about how valet parking works.
You approach the entrance to the hotel and get into the lane marked “Valet Parking.” Usually, someone in a hotel uniform will direct you to stop at a specific location in that lane. If the valet service is busy—it might be Friday evening, for example—your car may be just one in a line of cars awaiting valet pickup. In that case, you’ll leave your keys in the car.
Otherwise, your valet will take the keys, and after dealing with a bellman to take care of any luggage you may have, he will drive your car to the valet parking lot.
This is a separate area from free or general parking, and nobody but valets and other pertinent resort employees are permitted there.
In either case, you’ll be given a claim ticket, which is kind of important, and here’s why: In the unlikely event that you do not win the $570 million progressive on the Wheel of Fortune slots, you’ll need that claim ticket to reclaim your car for the long, self-recriminating drive back to Los Angeles. So as the old adage goes, keep your friends close, but keep your valet claim ticket closer.
This next step is easy: Enjoy your stay spent battling with slot machines and blackjack dealers over who gets to keep your money.
The Prototypical Valet
While there are numerous examples of 20- and 30-year parking veterans in Las Vegas, most of the valets are young men and women. This is a starter job for many; the puny pay rate scale reflects that. No one takes a job as a valet so they can save up for that luxury condo in Summerlin. But tips, right? Well, yes, and some tips are outrageously extravagant, but most are in the one- to two-dollar range.
Plus—have you been outside in Las Vegas? It’s hot out there. Very hot. Sahara Desert hot. That’s when it isn’t very cold—yes, there are a couple of weeks during the winter when Vegas can get quite brisk.
Valets tend to fall into one of three groups. There’s the student who has taken the job as a first foray into the world of employment. There’s the two-jobber, who works another job during the day and does part-time valet work in the evenings to supplement income. These two groups comprise the vast majority of valets everywhere, including Las Vegas.
Then there’s the third group: People who are otherwise unemployable. To be perfectly frank, it’s unlikely you’ll find members of this group parking cars at the resorts in Las Vegas.
The valets in Las Vegas usually wear a uniform, typically something light. In some cases, the uniform might look a little ridiculous, particularly when the resort wants to stress a theme associated with the hotel. Some valets look better equipped for a safari than to park your Suburban. Welcome to the jungle, indeed.
By the way, the valet didn’t just walk in and fill out an application for the job. Valet jobs are much in demand, and those who ply the trade typically knew someone who was able to grease their way in for an interview.
And make no mistake: Once hired, the valet hustles. Think of a 4,000-room hotel. Now imagine most of its guests dropping off their cars with the valet on Friday evening or picking their car up Sunday evening for the drive back home. Are those thousands of cars nearby? No, they are not. Is there a phalanx of valets standing by to move those cars? No, there is not. At most, there are a dozen valets trying valiantly to somehow park and retrieve hundreds of vehicles simultaneously.
No one takes a job as a Las Vegas valet who isn’t prepared to get an awful lot of exercise. Valet parking garages are often several flights of stairs down, and while cars are cataloged and mapped out for easy locating, there is still considerable distance to cover—both vertically and horizontally—to get to that car. Also, there’s the hotel guest waiting impatiently, over there on the curb, whose tip will be based on just how quickly his or her vehicle arrives.
Why so few valets? Well, for one thing, the valets themselves don’t want too much competition. Also, as with any part of the hospitality trade, there are slow times, and the valet company—often an independent contractor that pays for the valet concession at that resort—doesn’t want the additional payroll, either.
So Las Vegas valet shifts are generally small groups of a dozen or so valets, even at the larger resorts. One exception is the Wynn Resort, which insists its guest not be kept waiting for their vehicle at the valet stand, so the hotel tends to run shifts of about 20 valets to ensure guests are never kept waiting.
Incidentally, that extra effort at the Wynn results in an average tip of $5 rather than the more common $1-$2. Also incidentally, depending on where they work, valets may not get to keep their own tips, but rather, must contribute them to a pool that pays out weekly or bi-weekly to all the valets based on the hours each worked for that period.
Valets must be intimately familiar—or quickly become so—with manual and automatic transmissions and where the ignition switch is (some new cars seem designed to cleverly conceal this item, for some reason).
They already know where the lever or button is to pop your trunk open.
That may not sound particularly impressive, but tell me—what do you need to do to pop the trunk in a 2019 Chevy Malibu? Sure, the key fob has a handy little button with the image of an open trunk on it, so that helps. But simply pressing that button won’t necessarily pop the trunk open. There’s one more thing you must do to ensure it opens.
The valet knows what that is.
Here’s another bit of information that is actually more imperative to know if you’re parking cars for a living: Do you know how to put a 2013 Mustang with the standard MT-82 6-speed manual transmission into reverse? Unless you own one—or are a valet—you probably don’t.
Guessing the Valet Supplemental Income
According to GlassDoor.com, valets in Las Vegas make an average salary of about $25,200—which is $2,000 less per year than that of someone working the drive-thru window at Popeye’s Chicken.
Apropos to nothing, when’s the last time you tipped the kid working the drive-thru at Popeye’s? Shame on you. Okay, me neither. Shame on me, too.
It’s the tips that make the difference between what a valet earns per year and what a member of the kitchen crew at a fast food restaurant earns.
As GlassDoor points out, valets make about what a McDonald’s employee makes: $8-$10 per hour. But the French Frying Legion at McDonald’s probably never got a $100 tip from a celebrity, either. Yes, valet tips can be generous; they can even be extravagant. But they can just as easily—and far more frequently—be quite picayune, even microscopic. Rarely does the tip match the effort involved. That’s tips.
According to GlassDoor, valets in Las Vegas can expect to get an average of $8,600 in gratuities per year. GlassDoor notes that the actual range in those annual gratuities of the 61 valets they surveyed in Las Vegas is quite broad—from just $1,200 to nearly $30,000.
That 30 grand in tips works out to an average of $120 a workday. And while that’s impressive, you have to wonder just how bad a valet you have to be to finish the year with $1,200 in your tip jar—or about $4.80 per workday. There are people who make more than that washing windshields at traffic lights with a sock.
But even at the median range, a Las Vegas valet can expect to earn about $34,000 per year, which is not a bad “starter job” wage, at all.
And of course, there are always other ways to supplement one’s income. A few valets have discovered what cab drivers have known for years: There are companies willing to pay referral fees—sometimes in the hundreds of dollars—to anyone sending a patron their way.
Naturally, no one is keeping statistics on these transactions, but some insiders suggest that if such a thing as a $100,000 a year valet actually exists in Las Vegas, it is one who takes advantage of “referral” income.
But that sort of business is rare—or so it is rumored. Most things you hear about Vegas don’t often rise above the level of rumor, which makes the “everybody knows” factoids that much harder to eradicate or correct. For all its neon bombast, Vegas is a small town, and nothing delights a small town more than a juicy rumor.
Speaking of Valet Rumors…
Most of the rumors associated with valets involve “joy rides,” probably because too many people who have seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off assume it was a documentary. And joy rides do happen—mostly in places that are not Las Vegas.
Remember that third group of valets I mentioned earlier, the group you won’t typically find parking cars in Las Vegas? Guess where they are parking cars. Hint: It’s in one of the states that begins with the letter “C” but is neither Colorado nor Connecticut. Take your time.
Okay, I’ll spill the beans: The vast majority of joyriding, thievery, and even discourtesy in the valet business happens in California, because almost everyone not in the film industry there is a valet hoping to get a job in the film industry there—that is, when they’re not feeling bitterly envious and antagonistic toward people in the film industry there.
There are even supermarkets in California with valet parking.
With tens of thousands of valets employed in California, it’s unsurprising that a tiny contingent of bad apples manages to slip past whatever vetting the small-time parking contractors have in place, get a bow tie and a red vest, and then takes your Ferrari for a quick trip up PCH while you shop, dine, or visit your life coach.
Incidentally, while Californians may be able to convince themselves of the basic goodness and benevolence of human beings, Las Vegans have a far more pragmatic “trust but verify” attitude. Most resorts in Las Vegas have video surveillance cameras everywhere. In the hotel corridors and elevators, throughout the casino floor—and in the parking areas, especially the valet areas.
What—And Quit Show Business?
Let’s face it: Like most work in the hospitality industry, being a valet is not a glamorous job. It’s mostly drudgery, stretches of boredom interspersed with moments of sheer chaos, and a lot of hard work. Sure, you might get to drive a Ferrari for three and a half minutes every blue moon or so, but on a daily basis, you’re far more likely to be driving minivans that smell of desiccated happy meal fries and wet dog for the longest three and a half minutes you will ever repeat endlessly all day long. Welcome to Groundhog Day: The Parking Valet Edition.
So, remember that the next time the valet pulls up in your car for your return to Not-Vegas. If the valet has done a good job (as they most likely have done), remember that money is the sincerest form of flattery.