The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the way people dine out, and since its onset, restaurants have been focused on the safety and welfare of employees and guests. But when thinking about safety protocols, parking and valet services shouldn’t take a backseat. Valet drivers are the first and last people that restaurant guests see; therefore, they are an integral part of building trust with customers.
Luckily, parking management companies are now offering safer, more efficient ways to handle parking in restaurants and mixed-use facilities with contactless service, hospital-designed safety procedures and digital innovation that sets the tone for a guest’s dining experience.
COVID Safety Standards are Here to Stay
The original valet process is the opposite of what should be happening during a pandemic; a valet handing guests a paper ticket while in close proximity doesn’t feel safe during COVID-19. Parking professionals in the hospital valet sector can offer valuable lessons on how easily germs can spread on high-touch surfaces and what chemicals are most effective for sanitization but won’t damage cars. The National Parking Association also presents guidance in the form of safety certification courses and webinars.
I was fortunate enough to learn the vigorous disinfecting procedures that were designed by medical professionals and apply them to our business. Now, our employees sanitize all touchpoints such as the interior handle, steering wheel and gear shift before initially entering vehicles and before returning them to guests. A safe and consumer-friendly valet method should feature:
- Valet drivers wearing masks and backing away a minimum of six feet as guests exit their cars
- Guests providing their cell phone number instead of receiving a paper ticket, and valets entering the make/type/color of the car while a license plate reader scans the car’s plate as an additional measure for tracking the vehicle
- Valets using non-abrasive sanitizing cloths to open car doors before parking the cars and wiping down the keys
Guests clicking on a link in a confirmation text received from the valet company upon arrival to request their car, pay the valet fee and tip. The confirmation screen features the ticket number, which is shown to the masked valet for car retrieval. At the end of the transaction, guests have the option to receive a receipt and parking summary via email and also can review their experience.
What started as a way to ensure employees’ and guests’ safety is turning into an enduring commitment to stricter operating practices. Continuing these rigorous safety protocols post-pandemic will be marks of quality customer service.
The Future of Parking is Digital
Gone are the days of paper ticket exchanges and gated garages, which in addition to feeling unsafe, also are inefficient and environmentally unfriendly. Going digital is the future of the parking industry. Contactless solutions not only support customer health but also simplify operations. Utilizing mobile parking software such as Oobeo or FlashParking offers a frictionless parking experience that takes less than 30 seconds from start to finish. This cloud-based software replaces expensive equipment and maintenance costs and instead allows consumers to safely and seamlessly pay for parking through web, mobile and SMS technology. Restaurant guests do not have to download a parking app, worry about social distancing while waiting in line to pay at valet stands and parking kiosks or return to the lot to extend their parking time. This conversion also allows for real-time valet driver monitoring and keeps valet drivers from becoming targets of criminal activity.
Guests arriving at a gateless surface lot or garage facility will see simple signage that displays three contactless methods to pay for parking: SMS, QR code scan or tap the Near Field Communication tag. Users then receive a link to enter their license plate number and the duration for which they want to park before paying via credit card or digital wallet. Users can then provide a rating for the experience, receive a receipt for their payment or extend the parking duration. Validation codes are available for restaurants that want to offer free or discounted parking to patrons.
In gateless lots, enforcement solutions include LPR technology, overhead cameras and AI technology to automatically detect vehicles that do not have a valid permit, have not paid or have overstayed their parking session. Property owners and parking operators can utilize different enforcement options for offenders, including parking tickets, booting and towing.
Frictionless Service Elevates a Restaurant’s Status
Parking management companies throughout the country are elevating the guest experience and increasing revenues by optimizing contactless valet and gateless garage service. By adopting new technology, both inside and outside the building, restaurants can attract new diners while also giving repeat guests a reason to remember their meals and return.
The parking companies that are savvy in digital parking innovation are in a prime position to teach restaurant property owners and property management companies how to replace antiquated systems that use paper tickets, costly gate arms and payment kiosks with a cloud-based parking method.
It’s not only about saving money and increasing revenue but also about keeping customers satisfied. Just as COVID-19 has uncovered inefficiencies in the restaurant industry and highlighted the importance of frictionless service, it has done the same for the parking industry.
Jeff Patterson is the owner and operator of Phoenix Parking Solutions, an Atlanta-based parking management company that is completely digital, cashless and contactless. Phoenix specializes in a range of parking services for restaurants, hotels, country clubs, shopping centers, and community events, in addition to parking management, logistics, and consulting services. Learn more at phoenixparkingsolutions.com.