Driving Service

Selecting a parking lot operator isn't rocket science. But it does take common sense, due diligence and a sustantial helping of trust.

“It's important that our valet attendants keep in mind that guests see them as part of the hotel team,” says Dan Buescher, director of marketing for System Parking, Chicago's largest hotel parking lot operator. “Our guys have to keep in mind that when a guest pulls up and one of our guys comes to help, he's not seen as working for System Parking.”

Valet parkers, or “hikers,” must be an extension of the hotel, Buescher suggests. “We continually stress how important it is that they look good, that they make eye contact, and that when possible they use the guest's name — -particularly if they are delivering a car.”

Customer relationship management is key, he says. “We've got hikers who've been at the same location for 20 or 30 years who know a lot of the repeat guests,” he says. “Wherever we operate, we stress to our guys that they're the first person guests see when they arrive and the last person they see when they leave. Our guys are really important in setting the tone for the hotel.”

The Swissotel Chicago, which owns its 400-space underground garage, has been a client of System Parking since it opened 18 years ago. The hikers and doormen wear the Swissotel uniform.

Jack Breisacher, hotel manager, says a hotel's corporate office often suggests a parking lot operator, but there are no mandates. It's customary for hotel executives to interview parking lot operator management teams and do their “own investigations at hotels they do parking for,” he says.

“You want to see the operation, what it looks like, how they treat guests, whether they seem to be an extension of the hotel, and how they represent the hotel,” he says.

A hotel can run its own parking operation or outsource it, as Swissotel does. The key is to select an operator of congeniality and professionalism.

“Most customers in a big city believe the parking lot is run by an outside source,” he says. “We want arrival and departure to be seamless. We get zero complaints, and the Fairmont, across the street, uses the same company. The Hyatt next door did until this month; they're going to take parking in-house.” (He's talking about the Fairmont Chicago and the Hyatt Regency Chicago.)

The Swissotel pays System Parking a fee, but “it really is a partnership,” says Breisacher, who gets together with System Parking President Dennis Quinn once a week.

Once the parking lot operator hires its attendants and cashiers, the hotel delivers its own orientation. “When they come on board, because they go through hotel orientation like our regular employees, our front office manager would definitely interview them — and probably myself,” Breisacher says. “For all intents and purposes, they are our employees. We have monthly meetings, they get birthday cards from us, they come to our Christmas party.”

On the business side, “If there's damage to a vehicle that they cause, it's their responsibility,” says Breisacher. “Our responsibility is on the building, but their insurance takes care of damage to the cars.”

SPREADING THE WORD

Officials at one hotel will recommend a parking lot operator to those at another, says Jim Andre, national sales manager for 717 Parking Enterprises, Tampa. Such word-of-mouth helps explain why 717 handles parking at an Embassy Suites in Tampa, a Marriott Courtyard in St. Petersburg, the Marriott Riverside in Tampa and the Renaissance Vinoy in St. Petersburg. That 717 also operates lots in several area hospitals also helps its Florida synergy, he suggests.

When it comes to screening employee candidates, 717 does “heavy motor vehicle registration background checks, criminal background checks-and depending on where they're working, drug tests.

“They're the boss,” Andre says of the hotel. “They're the one you're working for, and what we try to do right up front is determine with them what they're looking for.”

It is not up to the hotel to insure parking lot employees. In addition, security is a separate department.

His company tries to save the hotel money, Andre says. “We have hotels that want valet staff 24 hours a day when we know from experience they don't need it and we tell them that, we show it to them. We don't overstaff; the rule is one hiker for every 25 cars.” The number of rooms and projected occupancy indicate the number of cars, he says.

“In a 200-room hotel with projected occupancy of 70 percent, that's 140 rooms. From experience, we realize 60 or 70 percent of the guests will actually be coming by car; the rest will come by cab or shuttle or some other way.”

Jason Accardi, president of 717 Parking, launched the company with his twin brother, John, 16 years ago. It now operates in 16 states, with more than 2,500 employees in 200-plus facilities.

Hotels should “find a company that has experience working with a similar brand,” he says. “Understanding the particular operator's strength, how they profile and assess their employees and staff, and the kind of training they put them through are critical.” The specialized training 717 has developed involves “scripting” and role modeling.

“When we go into a Marriott or Renaissance, we talk about how to handle the guest and guest issues, how to challenge the staff, how to be flexible in relation to service levels — and how to provide savvy service at every level.

“We are a reflection of the hotel. Our goal as operator is to make sure we're seamless with the hotel operation.”


For more information and related articles, go to www.LHonline.com

READ THE FINE PRINT

Some insurance tips from 717 Parking Chief Jason Accardi

Primary Commercial Liability

  • Form No. CG001 ISO CGL
  • Additional Insured Endorsement
  • 30 days written notice of cancellation
  • Primary and non-contributing with any other insurance
  • $1 million per occurrence; $2 million annual aggregate-per location
  • Endorsement providing extension of liability on and off premises

Garage Keepers Legal Liability

  • Form No. CA99371001 (it varies per carrier)
  • Additional Insured Endorsement
  • 30 days written notice of cancellation
  • $1 million each accident, with not less than $250,000 per vehicle coverage

Workers Compensation

  • Staturory/$500,000 limit each disease/employee/accident
  • Evidence of coverage
  • 30 days written notice of cancellation

Umbrella/Excess Liability

  • Minimum of following form of primary policy
  • 30 days written notice of cancellation
  • $2 million, $3 million, $4 million or $5 million additional limits of liability

In addition, the hotel needs to create a contract that addresses these issues:

  • Scope of operations
  • Insurance requirements and additional insured
  • Defense, indemnification and hold harmless clause
  • Rating of insurance carriers to be not less than A-VII.

Finally, before starting valet work, the contractor shall provide a minimum of a certificate of insurance and signed contract.

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