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7 Ways to Improve the Guest Parking Experience at Events

Event pros should take the parking experience seriously, as it's guests first and last impression of an event.

Washington-based MarcParc hosted the Valet Olympics with events to test drivers' abilities.
Washington-based MarcParc hosted the Valet Olympics with events to test drivers' abilities.

Think valet or parking is a small detail compared to the rest of an event's moving parts? Consider this: It's guests' first impression, and their last one, too. Convinced now? Here are seven ways to nail the important experience.

1. Feed people
Yes, people likely just left a party full of food, but a little end-of-night bite is always appreciated. A.A.B.Creates' Xochitl Gonzalez has brought ice cream trucks for summer events. BrandLink Communications director of events Erica Krupicka has placed a cart catered by a well-known local bakery just in front of the valet stand, offering guests a small bag of hot sugar doughnuts. "One year, we served Border Grill's famous 'churro tots' right off the truck," says Christina Sion, the California Science Center's vice president of food and event services.

2. Offer seasonal drinks
Depending on the season, guests might be ready for a piping hot or refreshingly cold drink as they stand in the elements. Gonzalez has offered hot cider, "a big hit in the fall." Sion and Chad Hudson Events say they've offered hot chocolate for warmth against cold nights. And in the heat of summer, lemonade or iced tea can be an unexpected—and appreciated—treat.

3. Dress the valet staff for an on-brand experience
"You can pretty much bet the valet staff at almost any event will be wearing the typical black pants, black vest, white button-down, and black shoes," says Krupicka. "There is nothing less thrilling than that. Event producers should take the opportunity to impress guests as they arrive by surprising them with a valet staff dressed in a more modern valet uniform such as gray slacks and button-down with a bold bow tie or thick framed glasses and Converse sneakers. Guests will take notice that no detail is too small."

4. Carefully orchestrate the logistics
"We start with lots of communication with our guests from the moment they R.S.V.P.," says Chad Hudson. "We send a confirmation letter that includes parking information as well as a parking pass that they can print out. We then have staff with guest lists at the entrance of our parking structure or lot in case someone forgot their pass. In instances where guests would normally pay upon exit, we put parking passes in with guests tickets at will-call. We also designate special exits for our guests so they just hand off their pass and drive out. In instances where we use valet, we make sure to always double the suggested valet attendant staff."

5. Leave gifts in cars
It doesn't have to be diamond earrings, but a little gift in the car seals the deal for a positive guest experience at the very end of the evening—something that stays with them (literally) as a reminder of the event's success. Event pros like Hudson say they've instructed valets to leave little gifts in guests' cars while they're in their care—even a bottle of water or a sweet treat. Plus, if you leave the gift bags in the cars, you've given guests the extra gift of not having to schlep their goodies around.

6. Provide heaters
This may be a no-brainer in the winter. But if the air is cold at night, provide ample heaters for guests to huddle beneath as they wait for their cars. Nothing makes the wait for a car feel longer than a frigid environment. "A patio heater is also appreciated by both the guests as well as the valet staff," Sion says.

7. Use wait time wisely
If guests are waiting in line, make their time count—for them, yes, but for the host or sponsor, too.

Here's how one event made waiting for the valet a branded experience: In December, the Projects helped produce the Women In Entertainment gala breakfast at the Beverly Hills Hotel. "With more than 500 influential women in attendance, we were challenged with providing an entertaining distraction at the valet service, which in previous years had a wait time exceeding 45 minutes," said the Projects' Nick Ingate. "Samsung, the brand partner, wanted to add that extra layer of wow for guests, [so we] devised and custom built the 'Mentor Mosaic' wall that was then stationed at valet. It consisted of six Samsung Smart TVs designed in an architectural structure, supported by roaming brand ambassadors equipped with the latest Samsung Galaxy Note II who engaged influential guests to scribe a note of inspiration. These notes were in aid of the Women In Entertainment mentoring program and were displayed on the wall as guests waited for valet. The Samsung technology provided a seamless way for this content to be shared wirelessly and instantly."

The detail served as the feel-good moment of the event, with boldfaced names like Disney's Anne Sweeney, Kathy Griffin, Kerry Washington, and Molly Sims all penning notes. A total of 75 influencers interacted with the activation in a period of 35 minutes.

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