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Insight; New York Hospitality Professionals - This Week: Thomas Preti

“Insight; New York Hospitality Professionals”, a weekly interview series with professionals from the MICE industry in New York.

These are uncertain times for our industry – yet we believe that now is the moment to bring our industry closer together by strengthening our ties and relationships on a more human level. It is for this reason that Shackman Associates is undertaking a series of interviews with other New York hospitality professionals to learn how they are managing during this time.

In today’s episode; New York Hospitality Professionals Karen Shackman, President and CEO of Shackman Associates talks to Thomas Preti, Co-founder of Thomas Preti Events to Savor

Karen: Hello Thomas, Thank you for your time. You are our first interview with a partner from the catering industry and I know that many of our readers are interested in what you have to say. As a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of American, you have been a dominant force in the New York City culinary scene for over 25 years, overseeing the growth and development of your company - and I believe I have known you for much of that time. Please introduce yourself and give us a little background on your business.

Thomas: Thank you Karen. I’m Thomas Preti, Co-Founder of Thomas Preti Events to Savor. My partner Michael and I have been in business for 33 years here in the NYC market. We are first cousins and always knew that we would one day be in business together. Michael has an incredible mind for business and an eye for detail. On the other hand, I have the fun job. I’m a classically trained chef and love to create new and exciting concepts for our client’s events. We have built a company with a solid reputation for consistently delivering creative quality driven events and nurturing long term relationships.

Karen: What is your current situation? Are you still working remotely? And if so, how are you all managing your time?

Thomas: We have been working since the lockdown began. It is very important for Michael and me to “keep the band together” as they say. Our employees are part of the TPC family.

The front office, sales and production teams have been working from home since March 13th. We’ve looked at this down time as an opportunity to get those unfinished projects done that we all say “if only we could stop the clock and finish these projects”. Well now is the time.

Karen: How do you maintain the connection with your team members, both front and back of the house?

Thomas: We have standing calls with each individual department throughout the week and a companywide Zoom with all weekly.

As far as our culinary team is concerned we have been able to keep our core full time employees working as well as a handful of part timers due to being fortunate enough to have gotten an opportunity to feed military, hospital staff and recovering patients at NY Presbyterian Hospital. We were packaging approximately 900 meals every day for six weeks. This came to an end about one month ago. That’s a good sign and due mostly in part of all New Yorkers following LOCAL government guidelines. Very proud how New Yorkers have handled this crisis!

Karen: Now that we are in Phase 3 of the reopening, are you making any adjustments to your business model moving forward?

Thomas: Yes, while this was going on we were working behind the scenes on our new revenue stream that is designed to fill the need for in-office dining, corporate meetings, social events and not-for-profit galas post lockdown. “Preti, Set, GO!” officially rolled out this month. The highlight of this program is a weekly menu cycle of curated, seasonal three course set meals that are an extension of our current culinary offerings uniquely packaged and totally brandable. Please visit our website and click on “Preti, Set, GO!” There is a lot of interest and a fair amount of bookings already. Mostly social events at this point but our corporate clients are showing interest for when they return to the office. We are also sending proposals for NFP fall virtual galas.

Karen: Congratulations on the new division. That a very good “pivot” under the circumstances, and an innovative proactive position right now. Do you see any signs of live events coming back that will require full service catering?

Thomas: With regards to full service catering, right now we are seeing the requests coming in for “Elopement Dinners” Many brides and grooms are going ahead with the wedding ceremony followed by very high end small family dinners.

Karen: It is interesting that you are seeing that now, as opposed to some weddings which seem to be postponed to the following year. Now that New York has opened in Phase 3, what are you doing to transition back?

Thomas: As we plan a slow, careful reopening of our main office we have created very detailed guidelines for returning. We also joined in with the talented team of BEST that was spearheaded by Alan Kurtz, a long-time colleague as you know, for reentering/reopening the event world that we all so desperately want to get back to.

Karen: Is your team still dealing with cancelations, rebooking?

Thomas: Regarding cancelations, postponements, and rescheduling events, this has quieted down for now. As you could imagine March and April were very challenging. However, we have been very fortunate that almost all our clients have rescheduled/postponed and not cancelled. From the start we felt it was our responsibility to communicate and assist with our client’s individual needs. Whether it be finding another date or another venue, we were there to guide and assist.

Karen: What will your pricing structure look like going forward? How flexible are you being with regard to booked/postponed events, and, hopefully, new bookings?

Thomas: Our policy on pricing is that we will hold the price on any event that was previously booked and has been rescheduled for 2021. For new events we are requesting smaller deposits and are more flexible about cancellation and rescheduling dates.

Karen: Where do you anticipate an increase in costs?

Thomas: We anticipate the cost of producing events to increase on almost every level. Food prices have already started to increase due to so-called shortages directly related to processing plants closing, but I fully expect prices to dramatically increase once demand grows in an attempt by suppliers to recoup lost venue due to the shutdown of our industry.

Karen: What about labor costs due to the new health and safety protocols?

Thomas: Yes, event labor will increase as well. We are implementing additional managers to ensure our staff follows the new safety protocols as well as additional sanitation staff to constantly sanitize areas throughout the event sites.

We are purchasing materials and are designing station barriers and custom hors d`oeuvres trays that allow for safe circulating thru a cocktail room.

Karen: I assume that means clients may have to expect price increases?

Thomas: Yes, the cost of these precautions will need to be passed along to the client.

Karen: We are clearly all doing everything in the city to make it a safe place again for all of us – and we hope that clients will feel confident in coming back to the city and doing their events here. I know New York is on the bucket list of so many people, what is on yours, once travel restrictions ease?

Thomas: When we are able to safely and comfortably travel again there are two things I am so looking forward to doing. Traveling with my wife and family to see family in Italy and resuming international travel to exotic and interesting culinary destinations with my companions and dear friends from the International Caterers Association.

This combined with doing incredibly over the top, meaningful events again will finally mark the end of what has been a nightmare for us all.

Karen: The end of this nightmare cannot come soon enough, and we so look forward to working together with your team to produce unforgettable events again. Thank you so much for sharing your insights and best of luck with “Preti, Set, GO”!

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