TAMPA — Publix shoppers in South Tampa who hate circling the lot for parking can now toss their keys to a valet.
The Publix at Dale Mabry and Neptune started testing a free valet service last week that could expand to more stores. Spokesman Brian West said those other locations still need to be approved by store management.
"We’re always looking for ways to enhance the shopping experience and add convenience for our customers," West said in an email. "Our new valet parking service saves our customers time, getting them in and out of our store quickly and easily."
Drivers who pull up to the front of the Neptune store will see small pillars fitted with green "valet" signs. At the end of a covered cut-away driveway near the store entrance, a valet worker waits under an umbrella. Drivers hand over their keys and get a ticket.
When the shopper heads inside the store, the valet whisks the vehicle to a parking spot on the property’s perimeter. After shoppers have checked out, they exchange their ticket for their car and go on their way.
Although store policy says those who help take bags out to your car cannot accept tips, West said valets will be allowed to take them.
In the same lot as Publix, Keke’s Breakfast Cafe just opened at the start of the week. There’s also a small strip mall with three store fronts and a Bank of America surrounding the parking lot. The valet wasn’t busy on Monday afternoon, but curious shoppers looked at a sign that explained the complimentary valet was "exclusively available" at the store from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Customers might take more advantage of the valet service this weekend when the breakfast crowd is heading to Keke’s the same time shoppers roll in for their weekly grocery haul.
This isn’t the first time a grocery store has had a valet like it were a swanky restaurant or five-star hotel. It’s not even Publix’s first time — a Palm Beach Daily News article said the island’s only Publix has had a valet since 1990.
Palm Beach, separated from the mainland by a lagoon, is known as a glitzy and wealthy town. The service, according to the 2012 article, was operated by Coastline Valet and stopped only briefly when a new enlarged store opened.
With the new valet program run by Publix and poised to expand, it could make shoppers facing a crowded grocery market lean toward the Lakeland-based grocer, said Faith Hope Consolo, head of Douglas Elliman’s retail group in New York.
"Grocery strategies are changing and they’re as competitive as ever: chains like Walmart, Sprouts, Lucky’s and Earth Fare," she said. "I think Publix needs to up the ante."
With a slew of new ordering, delivery and pick-up options from Target, Walmart and Amazon-owned Whole Foods, stores keep vying to outdo each other and retain shoppers. Consolo said store loyalty isn’t as strong as its been historically, with shoppers more willing to shop around for deals and convenience.
"Publix continues to have a big reach and they’re going to have to continue to evolve," Consolo said. "I think they’re going to show off some other tricks they have hidden in their pockets as they move forward."
Contact Sara DiNatale at [email protected] Follow @sara_dinatale.