For valet services, business in the time of COVID-19 is anything but 'as usual'
As restaurants and shopping centers gradually open up and expand services, one less-often thought of aspect of the industry is having to adapt its entire business model. Valet parking companies cannot simply offer to-go services or limit the number of people shopping at any one time.
According to the American Public Transportation Association, traveling by public transportation was 10 times safer per mile than traveling by automobile in 2019. However, with the influx of coronavirus cases, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has shifted its guidance on using public transportation, even listing it as one of the riskier behaviors for transmission of the disease.
Data published by Apple Maps shows that requests for transit information continue to remain low while driving information is continuing to gain steam, indicating that more people are taking to the road instead of opting for public transportation as to keep their possibility of exposure to the virus to a minimum. This also means that they're busy looking for parking spots and remain dubious about valet parking.
Phoenix Parking Solutions owner Jeff Patterson sees both sides of the issue, "The normal valet process is the opposite of what should be happening during this pandemic. Right now, people are hesitant to valet their cars, and rightly so. A valet handing you a paper ticket in close proximity does not feel safe during COVID-19."
Patterson, whose business mainly consists of restaurant, country clubs, retail, and event clients, operates in the State of Georgia, in an industry that remains largely unregulated. He chose to educate himself on the dangers of COVID-19 specifically relating to the valet industry using resources provided by the National Parking Association. The organization, of which he is a member, offered sanitation seminars. He also collaborated with peers in the hospital valet space to replicate procedures that were designed by medical facilities.
"We've created a cashless, contactless solution for valet so our clients can still offer their guests a trustworthy first-class parking option," Patterson said.
According to a release, this is how Phoenix's protocol works:
- As guests pull up to the valet stand, a Phoenix valet driver approaches the car wearing a mask and opens the door handle using a sanitizing wipe before backing away (a minimum of six feet) as guests exit the car.
- Guests provide their cell phone number to the valet instead of receiving a paper ticket, and the valet enters the make, type and color of the car while a license plate reader scans the car's plate as an additional measure for tracking the vehicle.
- Guests then enter their destination as the valet enters the car using a disposable sanitizing cloth to wipe down the interior handle, steering wheel and gear shift. The valet parks the car and wipes down the keys, sanitizes hands and throws the wipe in the trash. All sanitizing wipes used are non-scented, non-abrasive and will not harm vehicles.
- Once guests are ready to leave, they will open the text message confirmation received from Phoenix upon arrival and click on the link to request their car and pay the valet fee and tip.
- Guests must show this confirmation screen, which features the ticket number in large numbers on a green screen for those who have paid or a red screen for those who have not, to the masked valet. The large text and color-coded system allows valet drivers and guests to stand a safe distance from one another during this process. Guests then close their car door and have the option to receive a receipt and parking summary via email.
- Guests also have the opportunity to review their experience when they pay. The reviews are internal and allow Phoenix to constantly monitor and improve services based on customer feedback.
In 2019, Patterson converted his company's parking locations to Oobeo, a cloud-based valet software platform that streamlines parking operations through web, mobile, and SMS technology. This system allows for a layer of protection and anonymity between valet workers and their clients. Additionally, Phoenix Mobile Solutions uses real-time driver monitoring via Samba Safety while managers audit properties seven days a week to oversee staff and protocols.
Mobile valet solutions are nothing new. Many luxury hotels and resorts as well as shopping plazas have switched from calling a valet to texting via a third party. The cleaning techniques, as well as the care taken to ensure products are safe for every vehicle and occupant, are the big step Patterson hopes will help restore the public's confidence in valet services.