Waiter Charged for Serving Salmon to Customer with Deadly Seafood Allergy

At the hospital, the diner who had unknowingly eaten the salmon “developed complications,” and the next day had a heart attack, after which he fell into a coma that lasted two days.
August 12, 2016, 2:00pm
Photo via Flickr user lonbinder

In a first-of-its-kind case, a waiter in Canada is facing jail time after serving a customer the wrong dish. But this goes beyond what we typically think of as lousy service.

Perhaps a bit of context is necessary here. The dish in question was salmon tartare, and the hapless customer had a potentially fatal fish allergy.

Simon-Pierre Canuel, the allergy-sufferer, was out to dinner at a restaurant in Sherbrooke, Quebec when he decided to order the steak tartare. According to police, Mr. Canuel alerted the waitstaff to his allergy when he arrived at the restaurant, reminded about the allergy when he ordered, and went so far as to tell the waiter to make a note of his condition and to alert the kitchen. Apparently, the memo didn't make it to the line.

When the waiter brought over salmon tartare instead of steak, Canuel took a bite in the dimly lit restaurant before realizing the switch-up. In hardly more than an instant, his throat had closed, his tongue had swollen up, and he was on the floor receiving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation from his partner with an ambulance on the way.

ON VICE.COM: How Food Allergies Can Destroy Your Life

His ordeal wasn't over. At the hospital, he "developed complications," and the next day had a heart attack, after which he fell into a coma that lasted two days.

Even though it was all obviously a mistake, it sounds like the waiter could have done a hell of a lot more to prevent the ordeal. According to Canada's National Post, the waiter was "more interested in socializing with a group at another table, laughing and drinking shooters, than tending to [Canuel] and his partner. When informed he had served his allergic customer fish, the waiter said he was sorry and offered to switch it for beef."

The waiter, who has been arrested by local police, has good reason to be nervous. As recently as May, Mohammed Zaman—the proprietor of an Indian restaurant in the UK—was charged with "manslaughter by gross negligence, perverting the course of justice, and six food safety offences" and sentenced to six years in prison after a patron died from eating his peanut-laced curries and having an allergic reaction. The waiter in Quebec might be a jerk, but Zaman sounds like a monster. He repeatedly ignored warnings that his cost-cutting peanut powder—in lieu of almond powder—could cause allergic reactions, and kept serving it even after it landed one girl in the hospital. He had even written "no nuts" on the container of take-out curry that ended up killing the local pub owner.

READ MORE: Restaurant Owner Sentenced to Six Years for Peanut Curry Death

Back in Canada, the waiter may be in jail, but Canuel says his personal hell continues. He has only been to one restaurant since the incident—egads!—and says he is often too scared to even fall asleep, worrying that he won't wake up. This being Canada, "a crime victim assistance center recently contacted him with an offer of psychological support." And, this being North America, Canuel is still planning to file a civil suit against the restaurant.