Complimentary Valet?

“Here’s a tip…” – unknown

Can you help me understand “complimentary” valet?

The other weekend my friends and I went to dinner at Leon’s, a great little spot on upper King in Charleston, after an alumni event that we had gone to earlier in the evening. I was sporting white jeans – lord help me. I have no idea why that detail is important at all. But I can’t help but comment on the fact that I wasn’t in my typical denim and/or black combo ensemble. I completely blame the alumni Purple & White event (see my shopping blog for more clarification on what that means). Anyways, parking can be tricky on upper King, especially near Leon’s because there are several other popular restaurants in the same general location.  
So we drove around a bit and looked for street parking; the lot at Leon’s was full (no big surprise there since it is tiny). We finally drove up to a lot with a sign that said “Complimentary Valet”. How fantastic. Easy breezy lemon squeezy. There was a Valet stand (umbrella and all) and two guys at the stand. My friend Lauren was driving and as we approached the lot she rolled down her window and politely asked how much the Valet was. The guy (Valet employee?) said, “oh it’s complimentary Valet.” The guy/employee (I think employee is a stretch if I’m being honest) then proceeds without any hesitation to remark, “but we work off tips.” I’m sure you do, brah, I’m sure you do. Thank you for that useful bit of information. Lauren said ok passively and went to put the car in park. You know, so we could get out, hand the guy/employee the keys, get the voucher, and be on our way. Typical Valet parking situation. 
Or not.
And I must warn you that I found this to be wildly entertaining. Perhaps because I was already on edge from the alumni event which was a anxiety-inducing social event that my introverted self would have preferred to have not been at! The things you do for professional networking. That’s a story for another time.
Anyways, the guy proceeds to give us a look and then points in the general direction of the lot and tells us that there’s one open spot that we can take. Apparently complimentary Valet loosely translates to “do it yourself parking” or as I like to simply call it, “parking.” Which – side note – is completely fine. We are not so ‘hoity-toity’ (no idea how to spell that…obviously) that we can’t park our own vehicle and walk an extra 75 steps to the restaurant. That’s not the issue with this situation. So we park, hop out of the car, and walk back towards the Valet stand and it’s “employees” confused and disoriented. Well just confused. Really perplexed is the best word. Lauren very kindly asks “do you need the keys?” And they respond, “oh no, you keep those,” and stood there staring at us as if waiting for their tip. It. Was. Fascinating. And this entertained me for the rest of the evening (and obviously it still entertains me since I’m still writing about it months later).
What exactly are we tipping for in this situation?! The rental fee for the Valet sign they dragged over to the lot? Security (laughable – given they weren’t really paying much attention to the lot)? Their polo shirt dry cleaning fee for the next day? Their southern accent? Because it’s America? The arm extension and finger point to the open space that I could see with my own eyes?!?
We parked the car, kept the keys, and walked to the restaurant (yes, all by ourselves – so so strenuous…it’s amazing we even survived). The only value added – and I’m really reaching for the stars here – information we received in the process was that you work off tips. Yet you’ve done no actual “work.” By all means rile up the HR professional with that logic! Why do you need a tip? Like seriously – why? Don’t get me wrong, I respect people who work off tips and am happy to oblige – when they’ve actually done something or provided some semblance of a service. Shoot – even if it’s lack luster service, I still tip. Why? Because at least they are trying, and maybe no one has told them they are terrible. Even better, if my wonderful pal Nicole (the provider of much of my Starbucks chai lattes – see shopping post) is present, you’ll probably get a 40%-60% tip because, bless her heart, she cannot really read the receipt since she chooses not to wear her glasses, so in turn she “overestimates” the tip. (To be clear, Nicole is an intelligent and literate human. Her eyesight just isn’t the best!) But don’t say “we work off tips,” then do nothing, literally nothing at all, and then expect a tip. That’s just asinine, millennial-mindset silliness. In my opinion, of course. 
(I technically am a millennial for what it’s worth, so I feel like I can say that about my own kind – even though I’m a millennial trapped in another generation’s chubby body).
I guess I generally have always thought that the idea of complimentary Valet meant that the restaurant probably owned or leased the lot and paid (I’m guessing minimum wage) to staff it and park the cars of their patrons. Perhaps I am incorrect, which i often tend to be. I just found the whole thing to be wildly entertaining and frankly I could not let it go for the rest of the night (well, when I got my Moscow mule, dinner, and soft serve – with sprinkles – I let it go momentarily…if I’m being honest…the soft serve at Leon’s is not terrible, nor is the food). So can we really call this “complimentary Valet”? Not hardly. There was just nothing “complimentary” or “Valet” about it. I mean I certainly hope they get tips from someone or perhaps they step up and park a car for somebody so they can make rent or pay their bar tab they’ll no doubt rack up later. Otherwise why stand around there at all? It’s just so perplexing to me – I guess they have to be making decent tips right? To make it worth standing there versus getting a different job elsewhere? Who knows…I’m sure we weren’t dealing with the top brass.
Well. After enjoying a great dinner with great company, we started back towards the now infamous complimentary Valet parking lot and its two tip-lurking millennial-era staffers in their matching polos. Lauren said, “are we tipping them for doing nothing?!” I just said, “well I guess if your car hasn’t been keyed and your tires haven’t been slashed, why not!” No we don’t tip them!! Absolutely not!
Now. Before anyone gets their feathers in a kerfuffle and starts saying “well at least they are doing something productive with their time; they could be getting into trouble and tagging walls and signs or getting into the dope but instead they’ve found good honest work; etc” let me be the first to say: 
We did tip them (well, we made Lauren’s husband do it). 
Because we are nice people. Certainly not because they earned it!

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