NEWS Jon Taffer with Isenberg alums

Hospitality Professionals Honored at Annual Awards Dinner

The Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM) in the Isenberg School of Business held its 2022 Annual Awards Dinner on May 17. Jon Taffer, host of the reality series “Bar Rescue,” received the Distinguished Industry Leader Award. 

NEWS Jon Taffer
Jon Taffer

“We make people smile for a living,” said Taffer after receiving the award, “Think about it. We provide powerful relationships, events and memories.”

The event was held at the Royal Sonesta Boston Hotel. Alumni and friends of the HTM department celebrated the hospitality industry’s resilience after more than two years of disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The 2022 awardees also included Ken Toong ’04 MBA (Special Recognition Award), Matt Lambert ’92 (Stephen Elmont Award), and Keith Sacenti ’14 (Outstanding Young Alumni Award).

NEWS Keith Sacenti
Keith Sacenti

“Many of us faced uncertain futures back in 2020,” said Sacenti in his acceptance speech. “I myself lost my job in March of 2020, and seemingly day after day many of my friends and colleagues shared the same news.” Sacenti’s response was to bring together Isenberg HTM alumni and students whose career plans had been affected by the toll the pandemic was taking on travel companies, bars, restaurants and clubs by creating the Virtual Young Alumni Networking Series.

One of the faces present in at the dinner was Keith Sacenti’s own father, Michael Sacenti ’82, who stepped to the dais later in the program to introduce Taffer, but who could not help but take a few minutes to express his pride in his son.

“I could easily take credit for everything he’s become, but that would be wrong,” said Michael Sacenti (a past winner of the Stephen Elmont Award). “His mom gets credit for his kindness and generosity. I’ll take his good looks and his gift of gab. Everything else is all Keith.”

The evening’s other attendees and awardees also reflected on ways the Covid-19 pandemic had changed their appreciation of the hospitality industry.

NEWS Ken Toong
Ken Toong

“After this pandemic, more than ever, we need to collaborate, and we need to share best practices,” said Ken Toong, the executive director of the UMass Auxiliary Enterprises, which runs the top-ranked UMass Dining as well as the university’s Conference Services, Campus Center Complex, Hotel UMass, UMass Store, UMass Club Boston, and UMass Trademark and Licensing Administration. Toong, who received a Special Recognition Award, is working with the HTM department to increase opportunities for collaboration on campus.

“We need to continue to work together to make the world a better place,” he added. “My joys are to work with students, to work with the supply chain, to work with you, to work with peers. At the end of the day, we’re blessed with good people, and good community.”

NEWS Matt Lambert
Matt Lambert (second from left)

Matt Lambert, winner of the Stephen Elmont Award, also cited the HTM community as an important driver of his efforts. As general manager and COO of the Country Club at Mirasol, Lambert has been an active supporter of Isenberg HTM students since he came to campus to speak with a class 15 years ago. Among the programs he has developed are a week-long externship, where students travel to Florida to study his club and others in the area, a full-time summer internship program, and a management development program that hires students to work for a year in all aspects of club management. He drew on his experience introducing young professionals to the hospitality industry to advise other leaders in the room who are struggling to meet staffing needs as they ramp business back up.

“Now’s the time when we really need to work together and change the expectations of the industry,” he said. “We need to have the courage to shake the reputation of the low pay and the crappy hours. If we don’t do this now, we will not find this next generation. So it’s really time for us to work hard and put in those changes to make our industry attractive to the next generation.”

In the evening’s final speech, Jon Taffer doubled down on the idea that educating new professionals for the hospitality industry is important work.

“I stand before you as your biggest fan,” he said. “Educating, growing those around us is our greatest responsibility. And when we do it right, we just create more smiles—don’t we? That’s the business we’re in. That’s why I’m so proud to be here. What we do is make people feel good.

“Never lose your love for creating smiles.”

See event photos.