How To Cater a Funeral Reception: Drinks, Food and More

Every year, about 56 million people die. This is an average of 153,000 loved ones lost every single day. That’s a lot of funeral receptions to host– and a lot of planning, too.

Here are some steps you should take to adequately cater for a funeral reception: 

  1. Plan well ahead.
  2. Make a plan detailing what will be served at the reception.
  3. Make a convenient venue choice.
  4. Plan seating arrangements beforehand.

This article covers how to cater for a funeral reception and provide food, drinks, venue, seating plans, and more. Keep reading!

1. Plan Well Ahead

A lot of planning goes into hosting a funeral reception. The welfare of the expected guests is to be looked after by the host, which can be tiring. While many handle the funeral reception’s catering personally, others hire catering companies.

Tips To Note While Planning a Funeral Reception

Every lost loved one was special in their way, and in death, they deserve to be celebrated with family and friends gathered around.

  • Feel free to experiment. While looking after the welfare of the guests is essential, regardless of the funeral setting, there is no right or expected pattern every funeral dinner should take. Myriads of options are available when catering for a funeral reception. 
  • Make a budget and stick to it. The cost of a funeral reception can be relatively high due to inflation and generally costs more if a catering company is hired. Either way, it is necessary to plan adequately and attend to the plans in order of importance.
  • Request donations. Some families request donations at the funeral reception to help foot some of the expenses, which does help.

2. Make a Plan Detailing What Will Be Served at the Reception

When you lose a loved one, drawing support from family and friends is essential, and sharing food can be a great way to provide much needed closure. Depending on the style of the funeral reception, the food and drinks to be made available to guests will differ. You can even mix and match options to suit your needs, budget, and type of guests.

Food options for a funeral reception include:

  • Potluck
  • Finger foods
  • Buffet
  • Sit-down dinner
  • Farewell cocktail
  • Pub hangout

Whether it is a casual or a more conservatively traditional setting, food can be a rallying point for the bereaved, but what do you serve at a funeral dinner? The following sections will outline some typical food and drink options. 

Foods You Can Serve at a Funeral Reception

While it is thoughtful to have food available at a funeral reception, you are not obligated to serve food if it is out of your means. Instead of full-fledged meals, you can opt for a variety of snacks or a limited menu if you are on a budget but still want to serve food.

Prepackaged snacks such as doughnuts or chips can be handed out at a funeral reception in a casual setting. A buffet with a range of dishes properly tagged to reflect alternative food choices would be an excellent idea for a more formal context. Tagging platters that are vegan, non-vegan, gluten-free, nut-containing, and seafood-containing would be a great initiative to ensure the safety of your guests.

Here are some foods you can serve at a funeral reception:

  • Casseroles
  • Vegan salads
  • Snacks
  • Finger foods
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Finger sandwiches
  • Meat and cheese platter with crackers or bread
  • Cake
  • French fries and ketchup packets

Another pricier option is to host the funeral reception at a restaurant with a closed menu. However, this only works if there are only a few attendants. 

Drinks You Can Serve at a Funeral Reception

Drinks are typically made available to balance out the snacks or food served. Top on several funeral reception drinks lists, we have:

  • Water: It is always essential to keep guests hydrated no matter how dreary the situation. Water seems simple, but having water available for guests shows thoughtfulness and intentionality about securing the welfare of all the people invited.
  • Coffee: If the reception is held during the day, coffee is a smart drink option.
  • Punch: Cool fruit punches served in the afternoon of a funeral reception will help quell the day’s sweltering heat—a truly refreshing option.
  • Soda: Soda can be served regardless of when the reception is held. Everyone, including teetotalers, can enjoy it except those who have to stay off it.
  • Alcohol: This can be tricky because there may be children present, and you may want to control the amount of alcohol each person has access to. 

It may not be as popular as the other drinks usually served, but some families may decide to serve alcohol at a funeral reception. Most times, the alcohol shared would be only for a toast to the deceased. Some of the alcoholic drinks often served at a funeral reception include:

  • Red or White Wine
  • Sherry
  • Beer

3. Make a Convenient Venue Choice

As always, the size and nature of contents determine the container. The number of your expected guests and the setting of your desired funeral reception should influence your venue choice. The venue options for a funeral reception include: 

  • An outdoor garden: If the person you’re gathering in honor of loves the outdoors, you could choose an outdoor location to show respect to them.
  • A banquet hall: If a sit-down dinner is planned out, a hall could be used instead.
  • A small room or pub: This is best for a funeral reception with a small number of attendees in a casual setting.

Many families choose to hold the reception in their homes instead. Again, whether or not this is an option for you will depend on many factors, including the size of your home and the anticipated number of guests. 

Made table in formal setting. Reception hall for many guests

4. Plan Seating Arrangements Beforehand

When planning the seating pattern for a funeral reception, the venue’s size, shape, and location should be considered. There are several ways to adjust the seating plan based on the number of guests you expect, bearing in mind what the deceased would have wanted.

Usually, the refreshments table is at the back of the room with the chairs in rows or split semicircles facing the memorabilia table. Some use a formal table seating plan for a reception held in a banquet hall. 

At a funeral reception, family, in-laws, and close friends of the deceased usually occupy the first few rows. In a semi-formal setting, the designated rows for family and close friends can be tagged to indicate the distinction.


Learning how to cater for a funeral reception is not a day’s job, as there are many sides to it and several things to plan for. Don’t be too hard on yourself if there are a few mistakes during the process. Quick thinking and planning in advance will help reduce mistakes and salvage any errors.


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Alex Noel

Hi there! I'm Alex Noel and live in Indianapolis, Indiana. I started this website to share my experience. My goal is to provide Americans a more fulfilling goodbye.

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