Mr Andrew Yong, 45, has only one type of customer: those too drunk to drive.
As a drive-home valet, he goes to meet clients when they call and brings them home in their cars.
Mr Yong says: “They can be anywhere, but my job is to get them, and their cars, home safe and sound.”
He typically arrives within an hour to send his customers home for $38.
The spotlight has been on drive-home valets after a court case made headlines last week. A drunk 21-year-old man argued with the designated driver his friend had hired to drive him home, eventually getting into the driver’s seat himself. He died after crashing his car some 4km later.
Mr Yong says they cannot do much when the owner insists on driving. “The young man was simply driving his car,” he says. “If the valet took the car from him, it could be seen as stealing.”
In the business, time is money. While Mr Yong does not speed, he charges customers an additional $10 for extra stops and $19 for each half hour he spends waiting.
Throughout his three-year stint, Mr Yong has seen and heard it all.
In one particular incident, he drove home a pair of enthusiastic 20-somethings who told him to take the longest possible route back.
When he turned to the back seat to clarify, Mr Yong says that the pair had decided to “use the car as though it were a bedroom”.
He says, laughing: “What could I do, it was his car! I turned up the music and adjusted the rear view mirror, giving them whatever privacy I could.”
It turned out to be a good night for Mr Yong as the customer tipped him a cool $200.
But there are bad nights too.
Mr Yong has to deal with customers who “merlion” – an euphemism for vomiting after too much drinking.
There was even a case where three passengers he picked up took turns vomiting in the same car, in what he describes as a “merlion chain reaction”.
“It’s why I carry plastic bags,” he says with a knowing smile.
Mr Yong, who manages about 15 drivers under his company Valet Drivers Singapore, says the company operates every day.
They receive an average of about 20 calls a night, with the number reaching as high as 60 on peak periods like the eve of holidays.
Mr Yong accepts calls at any time of the day, but most of them come in at about 10pm until 6am.
And although he has driven hundreds of different kinds of cars, his personal favourite is a Jaguar XJ 5.0. But he is quick to add that the cars he drives are far from playthings.
“They belong to someone else, and we have to respect that,” he says.
So far, there has only been one case where a driver accidentally damaged a customer’s car. It sustained a scratch on its side.
In that case, his company paid for the damages.
Since the entire industry is reputation-driven, Mr Yong says that the drive-home valets count on one another on busy days.
He is a member of a Whatsapp group called “Super Valet 101”, where he and seven other valet company operators communicate.
On days where Mr Yong’s drivers are all busy, he alerts the group. One of the other companies would then offer to send a driver on his behalf.
But Mr Yong does hope for the day when valet services like his own would not be in such high demand.
“It’s such a simple thing to do, but too often we hear about people who lose their life due to drink driving,” he says.
An often-heard message sounds more serious when he says it: “Don’t drive to drink and you won’t drink and drive.”
SECRETS OF THE TRADE
1. When waking up a drunk customer, open all the car doors and keep tapping at one part of the body, preferably the shoulder, especially if it is a lady.
2. People tend to be more generous with tips when they are not sober. A little friendliness and chattiness goes a long way
3. Always bring along plastic bags as drunk people tend to “merlion”.