"Ferrari is like a beautiful woman," Ferrari chief Luca di Montezemolo explains. "You must desire her, you must wait for her." That explains the two-year wait for a nearly $300,000 458 Spider model. Owners are members of a very exclusive club, and that's been reflected in Ferrari's long-time reign as "most popular" by discerning valet parkers at the nation's top restaurants.
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These days it's harder to get your Ferrari in the top parking spot, partially because of the rise in interest of special classic cars, as well as the proliferation of exotic car models from Lamborghini, Bentley, Maserati, and even Tesla. According to Robert, a 30-year-veteran valet at Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek hotel in Dallas, the brand is no longer as exclusive as it once was. "You've parked five Ferraris, you've parked a hundred."
Here's what the guy who parks your car really thinks of your pride and joy.
"Ferrari guys are the only ones who say, 'Why did you put my car in the back?'" says top valet Bruno at West Hollywood's Ink restaurant. "Always Ferrari owners are cautious and overprotective—they ask me for their car to be in front. Ferraris are a dime a dozen here." However, Bruno adds that special models, such as the Enzos and F40s he has parked, do qualify as crowd-drawing exotics and usually get the front spot, regardless of the owner's demeanor that day.
Most of the top restaurant valets assure us that any Bentley will be parked in the prized front spot, and it's likely because of the rapport the valets develop with the cars' owners. Robert at Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek tells PopMech that one of their valets has a Ph.D., and two have master's degrees, so they know how to carry on a conversation with a Bentley driver. "We also change a lot of flat tires and do other stuff, too, like wash cars. You name it, we've done it." Polling all of the valets, we found that these days they're just as likely to park a Bentley in the front spot as a Ferrari.
If you ask valet managers Alfredo and Martin at top steak-and-seafood vendor Prime One Twelve in Miami, Lamborghinis are just part of the culture of Miami's top eateries. South Beach models, as well as resident sports superstars and movie stars, use Lamborghinis as their daily drivers here, turning every mundane trip into a scene.
In Dallas they know their Rolls-Royces, according to Oak's valet: "We get one every weekend. Last week there was a 2009, nothing special, but it had suicide doors, and people got excited about it." To be fair, the Oak valet also said that the top parking spot doesn't depend on the brand of car, but more on the needs of regular customers, no matter what they drive. "If it's an elderly couple, I'll keep their car up front. One gentleman asked to park his '64 Rolls-Royce himself. I didn't drive it. Definitely people came by to look and said how nice it was."
Mercedes-Benz, Including the 1967 SL Roadster
One of Ink valet Bruno's favorite cars is a 1967 Mercedes-Benz SL, which he has driven and parked often in the top space for a regular customer. "A Ferrari guy was going to give me a 10 and then gave me a 20 to put his car where the 1967 SL convertible was parked," relates Bruno. "Only Ferrari guys do this." More modern Mercedes models regularly turn up in the top parking spots, many of the valets we interviewed say.
"Yeah, I do see a lot of high-end BMWs," says the valet at the Spoon Bar & Kitchen in Dallas. Top chef John Tesar draws seafoodies to this university neighborhood, which rarely gets the exotic-car crowd. Instead, his customers tend to prefer sensible BMWs over Lamborghinis. But not too sensible, he adds. "We don't get a lot of Camrys."
The valets only occasionally counted Porsches as exotics, and then only the GT3 and higher models of the 911. That's not surprising, considering that the prices of early Boxsters are down to near $10,000, and new Boxsters can be rented on both coasts for about $350 a day--which puts the Porsche status club in reach of the unwashed masses. FT33 in Dallas, known for new American cuisine, still considers Porsches to be as "high-end as Range Rovers and Ferraris."
Parking is not usually a problem along the partially residential Oak Lawn Avenue in Dallas's trendy design district, where Oak restaurant features innovative meat dishes, outdoor dining, and 10 highly visible parking spots to show off customers' cars. "I had a lady come in with a Cadillac DeVille, nothing special, but she was sure happy with it, so I put it up front," recalls Oak's valet.
1969 Chevrolet Chevelle
The newest and most ostentatious cars typically gets top billing at West Hollywood's Ink, but Bruno once parked a customer's '69 Chevelle there for most of a night. "This is a part of history," says Bruno, who spent much of the night explaining the car to Ferrari and Lamborghini owners.
1966 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible
Valet Franco of Red O in Los Angeles wears an embroidered guayabera and a straw hat when he parks cars at guests' requests, he says, "and we have a lot of guests who have Lamborghinis." But for 2 hours one evening he kept a 1966 Corvette convertible in the top spot. "It was surrounded by people. I couldn't find any blemish on the car—everything about it was perfect."
"Usually regulars come every day," says Rosewood Mansion valet Robert. "Some people really want to be parked up front, and we can't put a million-dollar car where it will be scratched, but we don't really need to show off. I just parked a Honda Pilot and a Bentley there a few minutes ago. If the Honda came in every day, we'd treat it the same as the Bentley."
"Sometimes it's just any regular car, depending on space. There's been a Maserati up there; the guest wants them to be there," says a BellyQ bartender on W. Randolph Street just west of Chicago's Loop, a trendy, restaurant-packed strip that's often the place to be seen at on weekends, as well as after hours on workdays. Although Chicago's climate and Midwest culture has kept exotics away in the past, the booming economy and plethora of exotic-car dealers and exotic-car rental services make the city uniquely showy.
"There is a special spot for our favorite customers, and usually it's taken by a Bentley, Bill Curtis's Bentley," reports the hostess at Valentino Santa Monica on busy Pico Boulevard. Curtis is the CEO of the Robb Report magazine, a chronicle of wealthy lifestyles. "But he also has a Maybach, which always gets parked in front."
"The Ferrari guys are always the most particular about where their car is parked and if it's going to be taken care of," says Bruno, top parker at Ink in West Hollywood. "And they don't tip that well. Guys in Nissan Altimas tip better to get their car up front."
In the eatery-crowded design district of Dallas, modern cuisine also seems to attract modern trucks and SUVs, notably Land Rover's Range Rover, according to one valet at FT33: "There are always high-end cars out there, Ferraris, Porsches, and Range Rovers, too." Remember, one-third of all Suburbans built are sold in Texas, where folks actually use their trucks, so the move to Range Rovers for status is a trend unlike that in the Northeast.
Shelby Mustang GT350
A 29-year-old woman brought a clean Shelby Mustang 350 to West Hollywood's Ink and paid $100 to replace the Ferrari 360 that was parked in the top spot in front of the restaurant on busy Melrose Avenue, valet Bruno says.
Tesla Model S
"What always gets looks is the new Tesla. It's different, and nobody really knows what it is. We're starting to get quite a few of those," says B.J., a valet at Fearing's Restaurant in Dallas who has parked a lot of exotics, especially on weekends, he adds.