Payments innovations frequently seem to come about from situations where people worry they might not have enough cash on hand for a tip. Years ago, taxis added card readers in part to address this issue, and today, parking valets are experimenting with something similar.

Flash Valet doesn't reinvent the wheel — it relies on credit cards and PayPal to handle the movement of money. But it does attempt to drive away the more stressful aspects of parking with a valet.

Here's how it works: when a car pulls up, an attendant can scan the vehicle identification number and process a card-present payment. The attendant gives the driver a ticket that includes a mobile number and instructions. To pick up the car, the driver sends a text message to that mobile number, and Flash Valet informs the attendant.

Flash Valet's system can also allow the driver to instead enter payment information as the car is being returned. With this option, the driver is sent to a mobile site to pay for the fees, plus any tip, as a card-not-present or PayPal transaction. The user can choose to get a receipt by either text or e-mail.

Flash Valet is testing its system in Austin, Miami, Los Angeles, San Diego and Boston, says Flash Valet chairman Alex Broeker. The technology is being tested in different environments: hospitals, concert venues, hotels, restaurants and condos. Each has different types of guests, different patterns of service and different customer needs, Broeker says.

Flash Valet is currently available only to parking providers, the Austin, Texas, company's CEO, Juan Rodriguez, tells PaymentsSource. Once there are enough providers with a merchant account, Flash Valet plans to release a free mobile app for consumers.

"We've been developing the platform for each particular venue type," Rodriguez says. "The way you do valet at a concert is very different than how you do it at a restaurant and very different than how you do it at a hotel. … The process seems very simple but on the back end can get very, very complicated."

Flash Valet is a consumer-friendly way to cut down on the time spent waiting for a car's retrieval, says Rodriguez. It also encourages cashless forms of payment.

Flash Valet also provides revenue management and data on busy periods to help parking providers plan staffing. Businesses pay a $149 monthly subscription fee.

Each parking location gets its own mobile number. Flash Valet also provides the software, training and remote management of the system. It allows parking providers to set multiple rates and store information in the cloud. Providers need their attendants to have a smartphone and a Linea-Pro point-of-sale sleeve that adds a scanner and card reader to iPhones and iPod touch devices.

The software saves vehicle and credit card information in the cloud, Rodriguez says. Larger providers would use their existing payment gateways, while Flash Valet has negotiated with processing vendors to offer competitive rates to clients that don't already use a gateway.

"It's a good example of how cloud-based payments and digital wallets can drive value," Rick Oglesby, a senior analyst at Aite Group, tells PaymentsSource. "The mobile device creates a lot of potential opportunities … its flexibility on both the consumer and merchant sides coupled with its ability to easily deploy cloud-based and on-device software make it a powerful commerce tool."

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