Whatever you do, don’t visit Travelers Inn when the after-church crowd hits.

On a recent drive to Minneapolis-St. Paul, I stopped at Travelers Inn Restaurant located along Alexandria’s historic main street on Sunday around 11 a.m. The restaurant was packed and people waited for tables along the sidewalk. I hoped the line signified good food worth a wait and walked inside. A man with a clipboard made his way through the crowd taking down names and seating parties as tables became available. Since I was eating alone, I figured my wait would be brief.

I told the man I just needed seating for one. “Great,” he replied and said he’d be right back. I assumed he had an open seat in mind for me. He never came back. He had walked away without taking my name and continued to seat others and add people to his list.

I noticed a couple seat themselves along the diner’s bar and wondered if I was allowed to do the same. Despite my attempts to make eye contact with the gentleman with the clipboard, he didn’t return. A server said I could also seat myself at the counter. A woman at the register brought me a menu and, eventually, a very harried server brought over hot coffee and took my order for a single biscuit and gravy. It was evident the servers were overwhelmed and frantically trying to keep up with their tables.

An older couple seated themselves next to me at the counter shortly after I ordered. They waited for so long that they asked me if a server would assist them at the counter. I replied that one would stop by soon and pointed out how staff seemed overwhelmed.

They patiently waited for another stretch of time and then asked for assistance. An employee at the front told them they were slammed with the after-church crowd. I realize she was stressed, but her response struck me as gruff. She alerted a server to check on them when she got the chance. They continued to wait for so long that I wished I could share my huge pot of coffee with them. If I could have located extra mugs, I wold have offered.

Another stretch of time went by and the server returned and brought them coffee with no cream so I shared my extras. The couple asked for a caramel roll while they waited, because they could see how busy the restaurant was and that the rolls were selling quickly. They glistened in front of us, just a few steps away.

The caramel roll never came. With concerned expressions on their faces, they watched the roll supply dwindle as servers grabbed them from the case. They asked a second time about their caramel roll when they placed their order, yet it still didn’t arrive. Finally, they asked the woman at the counter if she could pack up a caramel roll in a to-go box before they were gone. At this very moment, the register was hit with customers wanting to pay for their meals, so she helped the long line of people while other servers continued to grab the remaining caramel rolls.

As a bystander, I found myself feeling very concerned about whether or not that couple received a caramel roll. The line at the register never ceased, and I wished the employee would just pause and take the couple seconds to pack up a roll. After all, their request was were being put behind the line of customers who showed up after they asked. Heck, I wished I could have packed up the damn caramel roll for them. Like I said, they were sitting a few feet in front of us and it would have literally taken 30 seconds.

The older couple exchanged glances and the wife softly stated, “This was a mistake,” earnestly.

The kitchen seemed as slammed as the dining room and it took a while to get my order. The biscuit and gravy was fine. I’m guessing the plate might have sat on the line waiting to be picked up. I found the gravy mostly tasty and a little pasty.

By the time I paid my tab (under $6 before tip), the staff was calmer and made a concerted effort to be more friendly. The couple finally got their caramel roll but was still waiting for their meal.

This summer, I’ve worked as a server and barista at a local cafe. I’ve also been the person behind the counter at various restaurants and retailers in the past. Therefore, I try to tip well and give staff the benefit of the doubt. I’ve gotten overwhelmed during busy shifts, written down orders wrong, and made my fair share of stress faces. However, I can honestly say I’ve never been rude to a customer or spoken to one in such a gruff manner.

The couple sitting next to me wasn’t rude or condescending (if a little cranky), and overall mostly patient, all things considered. I found the staff’s treatment of the couple striking. I left with an uncomfortable, sad feeling swishing around in my gut.

I don’t know why the staff was so overwhelmed. Maybe someone called in sick. Maybe the management likes to minimally staff the restaurant. Either way, it wasn’t an ideal situation for either servers and customers.

I love small towns and independently owned, old fashioned diners. I just didn’t love this one after church.