Hospitality Professionals Honored at Annual Awards Dinner: UMass Amherst

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


Jon Taffer

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

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


NEWS Keith Sacenti
Keith Sacenti

“Many of us faced an uncertain future in 2020,” Sacenti said in his acceptance speech. “I myself lost my job in March 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 havoc the pandemic was wreaking on travel agencies, bars, restaurants and clubs by creating the Virtual Young Alumni Networking series.

One of the faces at the dinner was Keith Sacenti’s own father, Michael Sacenti ’82, who took to the stage later in the show to introduce Taffer, but couldn’t 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 a mistake,” said Michael Sacenti (former Stephen Elmont Award winner). “His mother is known for her kindness and generosity. I will accept her beauty and her gift for talkativeness. Everything else is all Keith.

The other attendees and winners of the evening also reflected on how 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 share best practices,” said Ken Toong, executive director of UMass Auxiliary Enterprises, which manages the premier 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 collaborative opportunities on campus.

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


NEWS Matt Lambert
Matt Lambert (second from left)

Stephen Elmont Award winner Matt Lambert also cited the HTM community as an important driver of his efforts. As General Manager and COO of Mirasol Country Club, Lambert has actively supported 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 development program. management who hires students to work for a year in all aspects of club management. He has drawn on his experience introducing young professionals to the hospitality industry to advise other room leaders who are struggling to meet staffing needs as they relaunch their businesses.

“This is the time when we really need to work together and change industry expectations,” he said. “We have to have the courage to shake off the reputation of low pay and shitty hours. If we don’t do it now, we won’t find that next generation. So it really is time for us to work hard and make these changes to make our industry appealing to the next generation.

In the final keynote of the evening, Jon Taffer emphasized that training new professionals for the hospitality industry is important work.

“I stand before you as your biggest fan,” he said. “Educating and helping those around us grow is our greatest responsibility. And when we do it well, we just create more smiles, right? This is our field of activity. 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 photos of the event.

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