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Nage's Lorraine Singleton on Working 51 Years and Only Calling Out Sick Once

After delivering the lamest excuse ever, she won't try that again.

Lorraine Singleton of Nage
Lorraine Singleton of Nage
R. Lopez

During her 51 years working for Marriott, Lorraine Singleton has only called out sick once. The southeast DC native serves up endless cups of coffee during breakfast at Nage Bistro, pouring out a palpable love for her job day after day.

Singleton, 73, has witnessed the change of the hotel and restaurant scene, working for Marriott since race riots rocked this city, holding practically every position possible from the laundry room to the kitchen. She says the job "keeps her going" and hardly thinks about retiring. So what is her secret to surviving the industry for half a century? Read on to find out, and learn what lame excuse she used to call out sick that one time.

What is your role here at Nage Bistro in Marriott Courtyard Embassy Row?

Sometimes I take care of room service at night, I make cookies for the guests out front, I serve breakfast three mornings, I work six nights and seven days. I also work in the laundry pressing sheets, and folding to help the girls down there. If people need cabs, I catch cabs. I also help the cleaning upstairs if they need me to make beds.

Quite simply, you do everything. How long have you worked here?

I've been here since 1998, that's how long this hotel has been open. Sixteen years. I started before they opened, helping them get things together and banging things into the walls. But I've been with the Marriott company 51 years.

What is your typical day like?

I come in at 6 am to get things ready to open for breakfast at 7 am.

Do you ever wish you had a job that didn't start so early in the morning?

No, I wish we opened earlier! I just love getting up in the mornings.

Honestly, I think of Nage for seafood at lunch. What is your most popular dish for breakfast?

The best seller for breakfast is simple, eggs and bacon. People just love their eggs. But they love everything we have.

In your years working here, you have probably tried most food on the menu. Tell us some of your favorite items for breakfast, or lunch?

My favorite is the eggs benedict. You can get that topped with crab or ham and people go for that in the morning. I don't do lunch here, I usually go home, to watch my soaps.

With more than 500 hotels around the world, most people know Marriott, but it originally opened in DC, right? Was Twin Bridges Marriott the original?

I think it was the original, with the hot shop was right next to it.  It was near the airport and 14th street bridge.

How did you get your first job at Twin Bridges Marriott? What did you do?

My sister was a bus girl there. She called me that morning and said, "Hey Lorraine, would you like to start a job?" So I said, "I won't have anyone to watch the children." But she said, "Girl, you better get out here, I can get you a job today." So I started as a bus girl in their restaurant, Fairfield Inn. I didn't even fill out an application. I started immediately on February 22nd, George Washington's Birthday.

What was it like to work in the restaurant/hotel industry in the 1960s here in DC? What do you miss?

The place was cozy. My colleagues were so nice. I still keep up with some of them now. Cooks, quite a few, but most of them have passed on.

They actually had a skating rink.  People would ice skate right there, outside the Sirloin and Saddle restaurant. Mr. Marriott, the founder, would come through all the time. He would bend down and pick up a piece of paper to take it to the trash can. Most owners or managers wouldn't do that; they would get someone else to do it for them. He was a sweet person. I was there for years until I went to the Crystal City Marriott.

The year you began working for Marriott 51 years ago, 1963, was the same year as the March on Washington. How was your experience working in DC during segregation and this tumultuous time?

One of the bad times I had was trying to get to work on the day Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. That was in 1968. They had a curfew for everyone that was out. You had to tell the guards you were going or coming from work. People were smashing glass. If you didn't have ‘sold' on your window, they were breaking into stores, throwing tear gas. It was horrible. That was the only riot I have ever been in, getting to work and trying to get home. I was scared. And my father died the same day, as MLK Jr. I'll never forget it, just like yesterday.

How do you think DC's taste in restaurants or eating habits have changed since you entered this industry?

For breakfast, people are in and out. They are more relaxed at dinner and they always want to try different things if they have the option. But in the mornings they are always in a hurry, so you have to give them their food quick, so they can run along to their meetings or whatever they have to do.  Coffee, I've seen so many cups of coffee go through my hands (laughs).

Which other positions did you hold at Marriott since then?

I've worked the steam table at Twin Bridges. That means when the guests put an order in, if they want the hot meal of the day, I put the mashed potatoes on the plate in the kitchen or whatever down the line. I was a busser, cashier, a waitress aide — that's helping the server, making fifty cents an hour when I first started. The tips helped, too. When I was a cashier in the cafeteria, maybe I was making a little more, like 75 cents an hour, but back in the day you was not making any money.

As a cashier, server, bartender and cook, you've pretty much done it all. Which was your favorite position and why?

My favorite thing is to serve the guests for breakfasts, working with the people. And working in the laundry room. I love doing laundry.

Seriously, you love doing laundry?

Yes, I just love ironing sheets for the guest beds.

It's not an easy way to make a living; do you ever think about retiring?

No. It crosses my mind once in a while, but what would I do? I watch my soaps anyway. I'd sit at home and get sick. A lot of people I know that are my age and retired, just sit with nothing to do. And I have more energy now than I ever had, and that's a blessing. This keeps me going. I don't have high blood pressure and I don't get sick.

You don't call out?

No. I don't play that game. I did that once. I was eating crabs at home, drinking beer, and I said I don't feel like going to work. Let me call them and tell a lie like the rest of them do.  So I called in, and told them I was not coming to work today because a crab bit me. The next day, I called again and said a crab bit my finger, and wouldn't let it go. But they didn't believe me and made me come into work.

You couldn't think of a better excuse than that?

I don't know! It was the only thing I could come up with (laughs).

Now your granddaughter works here, is that right? Is it hard to work with family?

My granddaughter works banquets and as a server on the floor like me on the weekends. And one of my daughters works here part time also, as a server on weekends. She says she loves working with me because I really get them tips. But it;s not about the tips; it's about serving the guests and putting a smile on their face.

And It's not hard to work with family, because we work as a team.  If you work as a team you are going to get the job done. I just tell them don't call me "Grandma."

You are a native Washingtonian, right?  When you aren't working here at Nage, where is your favorite place to eat?

I'm from southeast Washington. like the Red Lobster. I like steak and lobster and they have the best there.

I hear you like to bake cookies for hotel guests. What's your specialty?

Yes, we have oatmeal raisin, chocolate chip and sugar. My favorite are the oatmeal because they are good for you, with the oatmeal.

Sometimes locals are turned off by hotel restaurants. Why should DC residents eat here at Nage Bistro?

A lot of them know. I tell them about the food here, and they come.  For the food, the service, and the cleanliness, that's another thing Marriott is good at. And the chef makes it happen.

Nage Bistro

1600 Rhode Island Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036 202 448 8005 Visit Website

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