Honoring a Loved One: How to Organize a Funeral Reception

Honor your departed loved one with an elegant funeral reception

By: Jessi Minneci


Unfortunately, there comes a time in each of our lives where some of the people we treasure most – older relatives and friends – pass on. And while this time is rightfully filled with grief, reflection, and sorrow, we must also find time to honor and celebrate our departed individual.

Following a funeral, it is customary (but not required) to hold a funeral reception or memorial service. This gathering offers friends and family the opportunity to meet in a setting less formal than a church, cemetery, or other religious establishment to support each other, share stories and memories of the departed, and continue to celebrate the life of someone they cared dearly for.

Post-service gatherings provide a more casual atmosphere for people to connect. By pre-planning the funeral reception, you can ensure those who come out to celebrate your departed have a pleasant experience.

It is OK to ask for help

If you are up to planning the funeral reception on your own, then go for it! But remember, this isn’t an event you’re required to tackle alone.

Keep the purpose of the reception in mind and take your own needs into consideration. Consider what the person whose life you are celebrating would have wanted. Oftentimes, the planning may be met as a welcoming distraction during an otherwise somber time. But if it starts to become too much, slow down and come up with another solution – enlist the support of family members and friends. Feel free to delegate tasks, such as booking the venue and sending out invitations/notifications.

Pick a date and get the word out

Funeral receptions are often held at a local banquet hall, the home of a friend or relative, or another meaningful spot – such as a favorite park. When thinking about the venue, consider the amount of work that will need to be put into each place (hosting at home requires a bit more planning versus holding the reception at a banquet hall), and take into account what you are willing to do – both physically and emotionally. Also consider the amount of people that may opt to attend. Oftentimes, it becomes much easier to plan something outside of a friend or relatives home, but the final decision is up to you.

Once you have set a date for the funeral and following reception, begin informing family members, friends, and cohorts of the plans. You may also wish to notify local newspapers and any online memorial websites where your loved one is being honored. Through all that is going on, try to give as much notice as you can for out-of-town folks so they can make travel arrangements.

Consider religion, when applicable

Even if you are personally not religious, you may choose to follow the religious or cultural traditions of the person who has passed on. If so, be aware that some religions have special foods that are eaten or prohibited after a funeral:

  • Mormons traditionally eat potato casserole at a funeral reception 
  • People of Jewish faith traditionally eat eggs and abstain from alcohol

Furthermore, many religions have specific mourning periods that begin immediately after the funeral, which you may want your family to observe. Consider these and how they may impact the funeral reception.

Decide on a menu

Since the reception often follows the funeral services, it is customary to provide food and drinks – as most guests will have worked up an appetite by this time. Don’t feel pressured to serve a full course meal, but remember, food often goes hand-in-hand with reminiscing and celebration.

To keep the environment as comfortable as possible, you may want consider serving a buffet style meal. That way, guests can take as they please while conversating with friends and family members. This will also allow for visitors to come and go as they please without the pressure of leaving in the middle of or arriving late to a sit down dinner.

To honor your passed on loved one, you may want to include their favorite dish. For example, you could serve their favorite type of sandwich or their favorite beer. If you have a preference for what should be served at the reception, let your caterer know in advance so that they can make arrangements.

Remember, too, that if you decide to host the reception at either your or another friend or family member’s home, it does not mean that you have to prepare a home-cooked meal for everyone in attendance. Home catering is 100 percent an option, and many catering services will even provide all of the dishware, utensils, paper products necessary – and wait staff services, too!

Personalize the event

Adding personal touches to the reception will help keep your loved one top of mind. You may want to create a photo wall or memory table adorned with pictures and keepsakes. If the deceased was a collector, displaying some special items from his or her personal collection is also another good option. Some other ideas include:

  • Creating/playing a playlist of songs significant to your loved one
  • Arranging a group activity such as a candle lighting or vigil
  • Offering an open microphone so that guests can share a memory
  • Creating a tribute video to display during the reception
  • Providing a keepsake for visitors to take with them (a prayer card, for example)

Above all, do not forget that this is a time for grief, reflection, sorrow, reminiscing, and a whirlwind of other emotions as they relate to the passing of a love one. When it comes to the planning of the reception, remember to have patience with yourself and others. If planning becomes something that deems too stressful, take a break or ask another family member to handle it.

There is no wrong or right way to plan a funeral reception as long as you make a commitment to keeping the deceased loved one in mind throughout the process. Along the way, these are simply tips to ensure a smoother process as far as the planning goes. 

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