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A Complete Guide To Surviving The Funeral Reception

Worlds shatter when people are struck with the loss of a loved one. It takes effort to go through the motions of the day, let alone plan for the funeral reception. 

That's why we compiled your best guide to surviving the funeral reception. This way, everything you need to know is in one place, whether you're attending as a guest or planning most of the affair. 

Read on for helpful information on hosting a funeral reception, etiquette as the host and guest, and other tips to get you through this difficult time. 

What Is A Funeral Reception?

Separate from a memorial service, a funeral reception is a special event for family members and friends to honor the deceased without a formalized structure. The gathering after a funeral usually has food and drinks and serves as a venue to offer one's condolences to the family. This is also commonly known as a repast.

While it's not required to host a reception after a funeral, it serves as an event to aid people in their grieving process. It may seem overwhelming to host one, given all the planning.

There are invitations, setting up, cleaning up, and other logistics involved. But that's what close friends and family are for. It's okay to ask for help when you need it. 

What Needs To Be Done To Get Ready For The Reception?

Hosting a funeral reception will look different for different people. Various cultures, religions, budgets, and more will dictate how and when a remembrance gathering will occur and who will attend.  That said, there are commonalities in planning a funeral reception.

It would be best to consider the following: 

  • Who do you invite?
  • What do you plan to serve for food and drinks?
  • What are the preferred locations to have a funeral reception?
  • What date and time do you want to have the reception?
  • How will the reception be personalized?
  • Who will speak?
  • What is the plan for setting up and cleaning up?

WHO DO YOU WANT TO INVITE?

Think about how you want to gather with friends and family for your deceased loved one. Often the host will send invitations to everyone who arrived at the remembrance service. Other times, the host may prefer a more intimate setting with only a few close friends and family.

Here are a few questions that will help guide you in the decision making process.

Was the departed well known in the community?

Who are the people who must attend like family and very close friends?

Will you allow young children?

Do you know all the deceased's friends and family who would like to attend?

Will it bring you comfort to see a room packed full of people honoring your loved one? Or would you feel too overwhelmed?

What is your budget?

WHAT ARE YOUR FUNERAL RECEPTION FOOD PLANS?

After knowing your budget and how many people you plan to invite, it's time to consider how you want to feed the guests. There is no right or wrong way to do it. But food is a large part of the funeral reception, so having a plan is a must. Here are some ideas. 

Only Cater Finger Foods

Selecting a few crowd pleasing appetizers for servers to carry around the room is one way to go. Most caterers will have options for people who have dietary restrictions.

You can also place all the finger foods at one table for people to grab as they please. Keep in mind that if you only plan to have finger foods, the table option might be best. Otherwise, you may have hungry guests waiving down servers the entire reception.


Make It Easy With Buffet Style Service

Buffets are typically straightforward and don't require much else other than selecting a menu from a catering company. This allows guests to go through the buffet line at their leisure and for those guests that don't want to eat, they have that option.


Consider A Potluck As A Budget Friendly Option

They say that food is love. So why not bring everyone together for a reception that shows the most love possible? This is a great way for family and friends that want to help be able to contribute and it alleviates much of the stress of having to make sure there is enough food.


Have A Sit Down Meal

For large receptions or smaller, more intimate ones, sit down meals may provide for a better guest experience. It also provides a great opportunity to share memories of the deceased and find comfort in the individual relationships each person shared.


Don't Forget About The Drinks

Think about if you want to provide alcohol or keep it a dry event. Consider who is attending when making this decision, as well as what you want. Another idea is to feature the deceased's favorite drink to enhance their living memory during a celebration of life reception. 

WHERE WILL THE FUNERAL RECEPTION VENUE BE?

When planning a post funeral reception, it's important to consider location pretty early on, especially if you need to reserve a space ahead of time. Below are options to consider when picking a place:

Host At A Family Member Or Close Friend's House

Most repasts are held at the home of a family member of the deceased. Close friends may also open up their homes for the gathering. 


Come Together At Church

Many churches have banquet halls that can be great spots for a funeral reception. Other places of worship may have an equivalent. Especially if a memorial service is taking place there, it could be incredibly convenient for those who struggle to travel to a separate location. 


Community Centers & Colleges Have Rooms To Rent

Check out various public event spaces in your area. These tend to be significantly cheaper than fancy banquet halls or hotels. Remember to look at libraries, colleges, rec centers, gardens, parks, and other creative spots. 


Funeral Homes Are Also An Option

Similarly, if a service is held nearby or in a funeral home, it may make the most sense to have the post funeral reception there as well. Most funeral homes have small parlors that make for an easily accessible place for a funeral reception. Note that they are best suited for smaller gatherings.

WHAT DATE & TIME WILL THE RECEPTION TAKE PLACE?

Next, let's review how best to set a date and time for a funeral reception. 

What Time Is Best?

Having a hard start and stop time is great to do for funeral receptions. It may become exhausting if guests overstay, and an end time helps with that. A typical gathering after a celebration of life service lasts a couple of hours. But there is no hard and fast rule, and you should plan for what's best for you and the family. 

What Date Is Best?

You'll want to be considerate of anybody coming from out of town. If you choose to have the reception on a different day than the service, it may be difficult for travelers to plan accordingly, especially if the gathering is during the week. 

There is no required rule for setting a date in proximity to the day of death. That said, many expect a service and reception to occur closer to when someone has passed away than later. If you're struggling to balance the overwhelming nature of grief while planning the funeral and reception afterward, people will understand. If you need time, take it. Scheduling the event anywhere from three days to two weeks after the passing of a loved one is widely accepted. 

Keep Others In Mind

Before picking a date, consider these practical factors:

  • Churches, funeral homes, or other spaces may require reservations in advance.
  • Plan ahead so that travelers have enough time to book flights and hotels.
  • Some guests like the spouse of the deceased require more flexibility with a date and time.

DECIDE HOW TO PERSONALIZE THE RECEPTION

A celebration of life memorial may offer support and peace to those who are mourning. And when a funeral reception is personalized to showcase the love and support that the guests have for the deceased and their family, it can bring even more comfort to all. 

Here are ways to customize a reception:

Display Photos Of The Deceased

Pictures can be displayed physically in frames, on a website online, on brochures, or shown across a large projector. Another idea is to provide a link for an online photo collage so guests can add photos before, during, and after the ceremony and reception.

This will also help guests who cannot make it in person to feel included. 


Offer An Open Mic So Guests Can Share Stories

Letting guests share stories, memories, life lessons, silly quotes, or simply what the deceased meant to them will further personalize your service or reception.


Provide A Keepsake For Visitors To Take With Them

Showcasing or providing remembrance jewelry is a fantastic way to personalize a funeral reception. Memorial jewelry comes in many forms, including:

Photo Engraved Keepsakes

Photo engraved bracelets or necklaces, cremation jewelry, and more are visual representations of your loved ones who have passed away. 

Photo engraved pendants that include ashes into jewelry are cremation keepsakes that can warm your heart. This Necklace Urn Gold Plated Memory Heart Keepsake is a stunning remembrance gift for those very close to the dead and who prefer color photo engraved jewelry. 


Other Remembrance Keepsakes

Photo engraved keychains, memorial magnets, money clips, or memorial coins are great for those who don't wear jewelry. Take a look at this Solid Polished Silver Memorial Coin with Thumbprint and Photo on Back.

This Photo Engraved Stainless Steel Round Keychain will help keep the deceased nearby anywhere you go, encouraging healing and comfort. 

 

For more information on finding the perfect photo engraved keepsake, read Custom Photo Engraved Jewelry Buying Guide For Yourself.


Think About The Deceased's Interests

If the dead was obsessed with The Beatles, make a playlist that's on throughout the gathering. If the departed had a passion for charity, have a money donation location for their favorite organization. Don't be afraid to get creative with the details. 

WHO WILL SPEAK?

Whether you want to speak or have a family member or close friend of the dead address the room, it's helpful to plan what will be said in advance. It will also help you remember to thank everyone you intend to.

ASK FOR HELP

Don't be afraid to ask for all the help you need. Picking a set up and clean up crew will be very useful. It's exhausting to go through a funeral and a reception. It would be even more of a challenge if all the physical labor landed on your shoulders. 

Figure out who will handle the chairs and tables. Find a friend to prepare a display area for the guestbook, pamphlets, donation jar, and photos of the deceased if it's too emotional to go through yourself. And, of course, the clean up of dishes, trash, vacuuming, etc. 

How Can You Have A Quality Funeral On A Budget?

If your eyes widened when you saw the average expense for funerals, you're not alone. Luckily there are a ton of ways to navigate funerals on a budget. Your loved one deserves the best memorial service. Here are ways to provide that without compromising quality. 

REACH OUT TO ORGANIZATIONS THAT PROVIDE ASSISSTANCE

Charitable organizations and government programs can provide a small or a large portion of financial aid. You can try and make up for the rest of the cost by sharing crowdfunding accounts on social media. 

ASK ABOUT PAYMENT PLANS

Funeral homes offer different plans to help you pay it back over time. Green burials are also less costly, so see if that's a service the funeral home provides. 

CHOOSE CREMATION OVER BURIAL

Direct cremations are far cheaper, as they cut out the funeral home as the middle man and directly provide you with the deceased's ashes. Regular cremations cost more than direct cremations but are still less expensive.

EXAMINE THE LIFE INSURANCE POLICY

Insurance plans will sometimes allow for the money to cover funeral costs. Keep in mind, however, that there may be delays in receiving the funds. Check in with the insurance company before committing. 

USE PAPERLESS INVITES

Nowadays, sending paper invitations is unnecessary. If a few elderly attendees are unfamiliar with email or other online tools, you can limit the cost of invitations by only sending some paper ones and the rest online. There are even free invitation websites to help you spend even less:

  • Canva provides free invitation design templates.
  • Rsvpify will help you keep track of which attendees have opened the invitation.
  • Smilebox will pull together all of the RSVPs for easier planning.

HOLD A POTLUCK INSTEAD OF CATERING

Assigning tasks for drinks, mains, sides, and appetizers is a great way to keep things organized. A potluck is perceived as more casual than catering, but there is no need to lower the level of formality if you don't want to.

Funeral Reception Etiquette

When attending a funeral reception, it's essential to know some basics about the expected etiquette. Even if the family or close friends of the deceased are casual, liberal, or otherwise laid back people, it would be best if you never assumed that going against the social norms typically expected at a memorial service is appropriate.

FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS & REQUESTS OF THE FAMILY

Please read the details of the reception and service. The family may have special requests for their guests. This could be anywhere from asking for alternative sympathy gifts in lieu of flowers or requesting that young children not be present.

Follow these details even if they seem like not a big deal to you. The requests are there for a reason, and usually, it's so the day can be peaceful and how the family wants to mourn their loved one's loss.

WEAR CONSERVATIVE & NEUTRAL TONED CLOTHING

Unless otherwise specified, it's best to stick with this look for a funeral. Some circumstances may be different, and guests could be encouraged to wear bright colors and floral patterns to celebrate the deceased's life.

But if you don't know the preferred protocol, don't go against the norm.

Know more about Wake & Funeral Etiquette.

KNOW YOUR DRINKING LIMITS

You may be attending a funeral reception where there is alcohol being served. There is nothing wrong with having a couple of drinks but know your limits. If you get too drunk and cause a scene or accidentally fall, it can be very disruptive to those who are grieving their loss. 

MAKE AN INFORMED DECISION ABOUT BRINGING KIDS

Children tend to be welcomed at funerals, but not always. It's important to inquire if you can bring kids beforehand. The last thing you want is a little one getting antsy and running around the reception. They could very likely knock over an urn or a framed photo.

DON'T TREAT IT LIKE A REGULAR BUFFET

When food is served, be mindful of how much you take. Eat one serving and if there are leftovers after everyone eats, then go get seconds. It costs a lot of money to hold a funeral, and catering food is not cheap.

Consider that the family may have been very selective when determining the amount of food they provide. Likewise, respect the food choices. If you want to bring your homemade potato salad, ask the host first. 

BRING A SYMPATHY GIFT FOR THE FAMILY

Unless the family asks explicitly for no gifts, or a particular kind of gift, here are funeral reception gift ideas that are appropriate and meaningful.

Flowers Or Other Plants

If you wish to give a remembrance gift that is beautiful yet traditional, flowers are the way to go. Unless attending a traditional Jewish funeral or otherwise requested by the family, you can't go wrong with flowers. If you know the deceased's favorite flower, consider bringing that. You can also gift other plants instead, like a succulent, which are easier to maintain and last longer. 

If the deceased's family or friends own pets, or if there are pets at the reception, consider bringing a nontoxic set of flowers. Roses are an easy nontoxic choice that is still traditionally given at a funeral. 

If you're still lost on which flowers to purchase, ask your local florist. They will likely have a preset bouquet meant for memorial gifts. Orchids, lilies, chrysanthemums, roses, and carnations are used the most for these. 


Sympathy Cards

A short message on a sympathy card is another traditional gift to give at a post funeral gathering. Add it to your flowers, or simply provide the card alone.

Or discretely place cash or gift cards inside the card to help the family. Every dollar counts when it comes to funeral costs. 


Charitable Donations

Philanthropy is a distinguished form of celebrating someone's life. The family may request donations to a particular charity. If not, consider which organization the deceased would prefer to contribute to.

If they passed away from cancer, perhaps donating to a cancer research organization is the best way to go. Alternatively, you may ask the family or close friends what they think would be best. Here you will find a list of options.


Photo Engraved Pendant Or Keychain Of The Deceased

A picture will bring back memories and help to preserve the dead's living memory. Consider giving the meaningful gift of photo engraved remembrance jewelry like this Photo Engraved Stainless Steel Thick Dog Tag Pendant. 


Fingerprint Jewelry

Thumbprint jewelry is another way to keep someone's legacy close to them. This Sterling Silver Rectangle Signature Thumbprint Pendant also incorporates a signature for another personal touch. It's a beautiful gift idea for someone who is in mourning.


A Memorial Album Or Framed Photo Of The Deceased

A photo can trigger countless thoughts and emotions that guide people through the grieving process. You may want to give a framed print of the person who died as your sympathy gift.

Or consider creating a custom photo album. This is a great idea for anyone on a budget. If you wish to spend less but want to ensure your gift is meaningful, go to a local drug store and find a photo album for cheap. You can print photos there from your smartphone as well.

PAY YOUR RESPECTS TO THE FAMILY BEFORE LEAVING

If anything, remember to offer your condolences to the family. Though it may seem inappropriate or intimidating to walk up to someone in mourning, it will show that you are thinking about them and the deceased.

Plan ahead what you intend to say, as it will help you get through it. Keep it short and sweet in order to respect the family's time with other guests. 

OFFER TO HELP WITH THE CLEAN-UP

Details like planning a clean up crew may fall through the cracks for the host, as there are numerous things to take care of when planning a funeral reception. If you are close to the family, offer to help with cleaning up when everything is over.

DO YOU NEED TO BE INVITED TO THE RECEPTION IN ORDER TO ATTEND?

This depends on the family's preferences. If you wish to attend the funeral reception and see an announcement for the details, it's appropriate to participate. Similarly, if a vigil for the dead is announced, it is safe to assume anyone may go as they please. 

If there is no mention of a funeral reception at the funeral service, then it may be that the family is having a small, private reception. That would mean that unless you received a formal handwritten invitation or were formally invited by a close family member, you should not try to attend the funeral reception.

For more information on funeral etiquette, please take a look at Wake And Funeral Etiquette from our education center. 

Funeral Reception Frequently Asked Questions

Who pays for the funeral reception?

This depends on the close friends and family of the deceased. Here are typical scenarios:

Pre paid funeral plans are already in place for the deceased. This method of payment is the most straightforward because it's pretty much already taken care of. If you know you are dying and wish to offer some relief for your loved ones, this may be the best option for you. A partial alternative is that some individuals may pre purchase plots of land at a cemetery.

The deceased's estate may cover the expenses. If applicable, the bank in charge of the dead's financial accounts will usually issue money for funeral costs. If it's not enough, the deceased's family can reach out to local agencies for help. 

The family will take care of the cost.  This is very common. If a parent dies, their adult children or spouse are likely to take on the expenses. Or the family may decide to split it amongst the relatives.

Legally, the next of kin is responsible.  Most states hold the next of kin obligated to pay funeral expenses. It's also the usual etiquette for most memorials. 

What kind of funeral reception food should I have?

Food is a large part of the funeral reception, so having a plan is a must. There are many ways to go about it, but as long as you consider at least one option for common dietary restrictions such as vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free, you're good to go. And remember that if there is any time for comfort food, it's for this type of occasion.

As for the method of serving food, here are some options:

  • Select a few appetizers as finger foods. 
  • Choose to go with a buffet style service.
  • Hold a potluck instead of catering. 
  • Have a catered sit down meal.

Accordion 3

If you don't wish to hold the repast at your home, there are alternatives: 

Ask a family member or close friend to host it at their house. They may have a bigger and more open space or be conveniently located for guests. 

Hold the reception at church. Churches will have banquet halls for funeral receptions and other events. Especially if a memorial service is taking place there, it could be incredibly convenient for those who struggle to travel to a separate location.  

Funeral homes will also have space.  Likewise, if a service is held at a funeral home, it may make the most sense to have the post funeral reception there for convenience. 

Look at rooms for reservation at community centers, libraries, or colleges.  There should be various public event spaces in your area. These tend to be significantly cheaper than fancy banquet halls or hotels. Remember to look at gardens, parks, and other outdoor spots. 

Is it okay to bring a friend to a funeral reception?

This depends on the invitations. If the memorial is publicly announced, it's appropriate to bring a plus one. Similarly, if a vigil for the dead is announced, it is safe to assume anyone may attend.

But if there is no mention of a funeral reception, the family likely has a small, private reception planned. That would mean that unless you received a formal handwritten invitation stating you may bring someone or were formally invited by a close family member who gives you the okay, you should not try to attend the funeral reception with a guest. 

What do you bring to a funeral reception?

What you bring depends on your role. If the family asks you to handle bringing chairs, food, or other practical things for setting up, be sure to follow through. Otherwise, getting a sympathy gift is appropriate unless the family asks explicitly for donations instead. 

What is the best sympathy gift?

Flowers and plants.  If you want to give a traditional memorial gift, flowers are the way to go. Except when attending a traditional Jewish funeral or otherwise requested by the family, you can't go wrong with flowers. You can alternatively bring succulents, which are simpler to manage and last longer. For advice on flowers to bring, ask your local florist. They will likely have a preset bouquet meant for memorial gifts. Orchids, lilies, chrysanthemums, roses, and carnations are used the most for these. 

Sympathy cards. A brief message on a sympathy card is another standard gift to give at a post funeral gathering. Attach it to your flowers, or just provide the card. Another idea is to discretely put a check, cash, or gift card inside the envelope. 

Charitable donations. Humanitarianism is an honorable form of commemorating someone's life. The family may request gifts to a singular charity. If not, consider which group the deceased would prefer to contribute to. If they passed away from cancer, perhaps donating to a cancer research organization is the best way to go. Alternatively, you may ask the family or close friends what they think would be best. Here you will find a list of choices.

Photo engraved pendant or keychain of the deceased. Pictures bring back memories and serve to preserve the dead's living memory. Think about giving a meaningful gift of Personalized Photo Engraved Jewelry.

Fingerprint jewelry. This is another way to keep someone's legacy close to them. It's a beautiful gift idea for someone who is in mourning. 

A memorial album or framed photo of deceased. A photo album may bring comfort to those in mourning. Give a framed print of the person who died as your sympathy gift. Or consider assembling a photo album full of loving memories. 

What if I'm attending a religious funeral?

It's important to familiarize yourself with the basic customs of the deceased's religious and cultural inclinations. This way, you will better understand what to expect, how to behave, and what to bring. Here are great places to start for Christian funerals, Muslim funerals, Jewish funerals, Hindu funerals, Japanese funerals, Buddhist funerals, and Mexican funerals. 

Can I bring my kids to a funeral reception?

Children are usually welcomed at funerals, but not always. It's important to ask if you can bring them before booking travel and making plans. You may end up without a babysitter if you find out too late.

Children are sometimes not allowed at funeral receptions because they can be loud and rambunctious. The last thing you need is a toddler getting antsy and running around the reception. They could very likely knock over the urn on display or a framed photo of the deceased. 

What is an appropriate monetary gift for a funeral reception?

When it comes to cash gifts or donations for funerals, the standard rule is to give approximately the same amount as sympathy flowers would cost. That said, this is only a guideline. If you cannot pay the customary amount of $50-$100, that's okay. Every dollar counts. 

What is a reception after a funeral called?

Separate from a formal service, a repast is an event for family members and friends to honor the deceased without a formalized structure. The gathering after a funeral usually has food and drinks and serves as a venue to offer one's condolences to the family. 

How long should I stay at a funeral reception?

If you are in a hurry but don't want to appear disrespectful, stay long enough to pay your respects to the family. Attending for about half an hour is short enough to get you where you need to be and long enough to ensure you have time to offer condolences.

If you desire to stay longer, it is appropriate to. Just be sure you're not overstaying your welcome. If there is no stop time for the reception, leave after two or three hours max.

Is it okay if I attend the funeral but not the funeral reception?

Yes, it's usually appropriate to attend the funeral but not the reception. However, it may differ depending on how close you were to the person who died.

For instance, if there is a wake and a funeral, consider attending the wake but not the funeral if you didn't know the deceased very well. As long as you find an opportunity to pay your respects to the family, that's what matters most. 

What do I wear to a funeral reception?

It is best to wear conservative and neutral toned clothes. Unless otherwise specified, it's best to stick with this look for a funeral. Some circumstances may be different, and guests could be encouraged to wear bright colors and floral patterns to celebrate the deceased's life. This is more common when attending funerals for young adults. But if you don't know the preferred protocol, it is better not to go against the norm.

How can I support the family and close friends while at the reception?

When you get the chance to talk to close friends and family of the deceased, remember not to be shy about saying their name. Frequently people think that saying the deceased's name will bring more pain. But the truth is that stating their name is a therapeutic way to cope. However, if someone says they don't want to, respect their wishes.

Another approach to offer support is to be deliberate with your communication. Avoid asking how someone is doing in general and instead ask how someone is feeling that day. It is clear they are hurt, but asking about a particular feeling or time is a more sensitive approach. 

Finally, reach out to the family after the funeral reception. Grief will stay with someone perpetually. Even if someone seems okay, don't make assumptions. Give them a phone call or send a sympathy card on the six month or year anniversary. For more information on this topic, read 10 Ways To Support A Family Member Or Friend After They've Suffered A Loss. 

Bringing Family & Friends Together To Say Good-Bye

Whether you are hosting a funeral reception or attending one, it's encouraging to have a resource that will help you get through the day. Remember that there is no right or wrong way to grieve and to take time for yourself throughout the service and the reception.

More Resources:

July 26, 2021 by Jeri K. Augustus