No, Really

Sign of the apocalypse? $4.95 burrito place Taqueria La Tapatia adds valet parking

Sign of the apocalypse? $4.95 burrito place Taqueria La Tapatia adds valet parking

La Tapatia, valet, August 2012
Photo by Sarah Rufca

If there's one thing that's annoying about restaurants on Lower Westheimer, it's the prevalence of valet parking. Look, I get it.

Most of these places — i.e. Indika, Mark's, Underbelly — have a clientele that's accustomed to service, one that certainly isn't afraid to spend a little more money.

For the rest of us, the search for street parking is a reasonable cost in exchange for having a dense corridor of cool spots uninterrupted by vast swaths of expensive pavement.

But you know things have gone too far when a valet stand pops up at the Montrose location of Taqueria La Tapatia.

I'll debate the virtues of the all-night establishment against the likes of Spanish Flower with anyone (although "better than Ruchi's" is pretty much a given), and while the huge bar and blaring Tejano jukebox would not have worked for my once-upon-a-time late night cram sessions, the cheap but potent margaritas and queso-covered burritos still make it an occasional post-drinking destination.

So I say this with love: Seriously, Tapatia? Valet?

As far as I can tell, the valet stand only comes out during peak dinner hours and the service is complimentary, so maybe the volume at that time makes it worth the inherent hassle. And yet I still feel that my central question is unanswered: WHY?

Are there people who demand a $4.95 burrito but are willing to part with a couple more bucks for a guy to handle that whole parking sitch? Is the large-ish parking lot, secondary parking lot across the street and abundant street parking south of Richmond not convenient enough?

I would like to propose some basic guidelines for restaurants thinking about adding valet service:

1. If the name of your restaurant has the word "taqueria," don't have valet.

That's not a Mexican thing. If you are a "restaurante" and you want to have valet, I won't stop you (provided the rules below apply). But taquerias are not fancy. Anything called a "bar and grill" is not fancy. Same goes for diners, pubs (Queen Vic can have a waiver) and any place that might be frequented by Guy Fieri.

It should be noted that Tapatia owners seem to agree — the website lists the restaurant name as La Tapatia Mexican Cafe.

2. If I can eat at your restaurant for under $10, don't have valet.

If a burrito costs $4.95 and I have to tip the valet at least $1, you have just added 20 percent to the cost of my potential meal.

Why are you doing that? Do you want me to go eat at Chapultepec Lupita instead? Please don't make me do that.

3. If you're going to give me a hard time about running my credit card in exchange for cash, don't have valet.

I do not carry cash. Like, ever. Me and cash are never, ever getting back together. So if valet parking is my only option, prepare to see me at the bar, charging my credit card $5 in exchange for something to give the guys in the vests. I know the restaurant loses money on credit card fees when I do this, but you designed the system so don't get mad at me about it.

If you don't want to lose a little money to have a valet service, now you know how I feel.

4. If you have more than enough close, convenient parking, you probably shouldn't have valet.

That's just greedy, right? However:

5. If I am likely to wear uncomfortable shoes to your establishment, you should have valet.

Heels — the really, really cute kind that feature a skinny stiletto and add about six inches to your legs — are not meant to be walked in for more than about 12 steps. Please plan your entire restaurant around this.

6. If you employ a sommelier, you should think about offering valet.

What does a sommelier have to do with valet? In theory, nothing, but the addition of a sommelier/mixologist/etc. marks a clear dividing line between a restaurant that is focusing on value and one that accepts additional costs to provide premium service and a better experience. In denser parts of the city, like Lower Westheimer, Montrose or Midtown, valet qualifies as a useful service.

Any rules I missed? Leave them in the comments.