Following the funeral service, some families choose to host a funeral luncheon. Also known as a “repast,” these luncheons allow the family to honor the deceased while enjoying a meal. Planning a funeral luncheon requires several steps, and there are many factors to consider.
Here’s how to plan a funeral luncheon:
- Come up with a budget.
- Create a headcount.
- Choose a location.
- Decide on a time and date.
- Plan the food and beverages.
- Send invitations.
- Prepare decorations.
- Create a playlist.
- Decide on activities.
- Host the luncheon.
This step-by-step guide to planning a funeral luncheon details the process from start to finish to ensure a smooth, memorable event. Keep reading to learn more about what goes into planning a luncheon, what to expect, and how to best honor your loved one.
1. Come Up With a Budget
The deceased’s family typically hosts and sponsors the funeral luncheon. In some cases, the family may request financial help with the event by asking attendees to pitch in with donations. In any event, families should decide how much they can spend.
Once you’ve come up with a budget, planning becomes more straightforward since the budget determines options for a venue, food, invitations, and décor.
Some funeral homes offer packages that include a funeral reception. A reception is essentially the same thing as a funeral luncheon, as it consists of a gathering of friends and family with food and beverages. The only difference is the name.
Note: Families should never feel obligated to host an elaborate luncheon. Hosting a small event with a few close friends and family members is acceptable.
2. Create a Headcount
Traditionally, funeral luncheons are intimate events involving close friends and family. With that said, it’s up to you whether to open the event to all funeral attendees.
When creating a headcount, keep the budget in mind. The number of luncheon attendees affects location options, the amount of food required, and the number of invitations to print. It may also affect decorative costs, as you may need to rent more tables and chairs or purchase additional table linens and centerpieces.
3. Choose a Location
The majority of funeral luncheons occur at the same place as the funeral service. However, this is not a requirement, and you can host a funeral luncheon almost anywhere. The primary consideration is to ensure that the venue can accommodate the number of guests on your headcount.
Keep in mind that private luncheons are best held at locations other than the service location. This reduces the likelihood of confusion when some guests stay behind while others depart.
If you host the funeral at a funeral home and the luncheon follows immediately after, the funeral home is the ideal choice for the event. Attendees are already on-site, and most funeral homes have additional space to host receptions, luncheons, repasts, and other gatherings. That being said, families must plan these services beforehand, usually while planning the funeral service.
Places of Worship
Churches and other places of worship are common locations for hosting funeral luncheons. Most facilities have a meeting hall or other area to accommodate a large number of people. In addition to providing the venue, churches often have on-site volunteers willing to help the family prepare, set up, serve, and clean.
Other Location Options
If a funeral home or church doesn’t work for your family, you can opt for an alternative location. Some options include:
- Deceased’s Home
- Banquet Hall
- Public Park
Keep in mind that when hosting a luncheon at the home of the deceased, this intimate setting may trigger emotional responses in attendees. With that said, it could also bring the family closer as they relive memories of their loved one.
The one downside to hosting a luncheon at a home is that there is no staff to help prepare, set up, serve, and clean. You and your family may choose to take on this task or enlist the help of a relative or friend.
4. Decide on a Time and Date
Funeral luncheons usually occur immediately following the funeral service. However, this is not a requirement, and you can host a luncheon whenever you’d like.
When deciding on a time, ensure that there’s enough time between the end of the funeral service and the luncheon, especially if you’re not inviting all funeral attendees. This allows mourners to take time to speak with the family prior to the event.
Some families prefer to host the luncheon on a day separate from the funeral to allow the service as a time of mourning and use the luncheon as a celebration of life. The one downside to hosting a luncheon on a day other than the funeral date is that out-of-town family and friends may be unable to make accommodations for both events.
5. Plan the Food and Beverages
Menu options for a funeral luncheon are virtually endless. You might choose to prepare and cook all the food yourself, cater the event, or treat it as a potluck, inviting guests to bring a dish of their choice. On the other hand, if you’re opting for a restaurant luncheon, you needn’t worry about what foods to offer.
Funeral Luncheon Food Ideas
Luncheons needn’t be lavish and elaborate. In fact, you don’t even have to offer a full course meal. The purpose of the luncheon is to enjoy food together and socialize while honoring the memory of the deceased.
Feel free to offer small portions, appetizers, or snack-size foods. On the other hand, if you want to serve full meals, that’s perfectly fine too.
Some funeral luncheon food examples are below:
Finger foods are quick, easy, and inexpensive. They don’t require eating utensils (usually toothpicks suffice for messier foods), so you can save a little on overall costs.
When offering finger foods, consider the following:
- Deviled Eggs
- Trail Mix
- Macaroni and Cheese Bites
Entrées and Sides
Some families opt to serve a full entrée and a side. In that case, consider offering the deceased’s favorite meal for a more sentimental experience.
Basic ideas for entrées and sides include:
- Steak and Potatoes
- Chicken and Vegetables
- Spaghetti and Garlic Bread
- Turkey and Stuffing
Another relatively easy and inexpensive option is platters. They’re easy to make (or purchase premade from a grocery store) and can feed multiple people.
- Sandwich Platters
- Cheese and Crackers
- Vegetable Trays
- Fruit Platters
When hosting a luncheon, consider offering:
- Coffee or Tea
- Cold Soft Drinks
- Juices or Punch
Some families choose to serve alcoholic beverages, but you are under no obligation to do so. If you decide to include alcohol, you’ll need to check with the venue beforehand to see whether it’s allowed or prohibited. Some facilities may require you to pay an additional fee.
6. Send Invitations
Whether or not you send invitations depends on the invitees and the date of the event.
Open funeral luncheons (where all attendees are invited) held immediately after the funeral do not require invitations. Instead, include the information in the funeral program, memorial cards, or have the funeral director announce the event at the end of the funeral service.
In the case of a private funeral luncheon, families usually send the invitations via mail or e-mail. When sending private invitations, ensure they include:
- Deceased’s Name
- Time and Date of Luncheon
- RSVP Information
You might also mention that the event is by invitation only.
Below is an example of the wording on a funeral luncheon invite:
In Loving Memory of [DECEASED’S NAME]
the family requests the honor of your company
to celebrate [HIS/HER/THEIR] life
on [DATE] at [TIME] for a luncheon in [HIS/HER/THEIR] honor
Please RSVP to [HOST NAME AND PHONE NUMBER] by [DATE]
The family should try to send formal invitations discreetly.
7. Prepare Decorations
In preparation for the funeral luncheon, families should decide on decorations, including a color scheme, table coverings, centerpieces, and photographs of the deceased.
When choosing a color scheme, stick with light colors such as white, ivory, cream, or beige. Alternatively, decorate using the deceased’s favorite color.
Note: If the deceased’s favorite color is a bright color, such as neon yellow or electric blue, consider incorporating the color in accents as opposed to the base theme.
Feel free to get creative with centerpieces. Consider the following ideas:
- Mini Easels with Photographs of the Deceased
- Small Floral Arrangements
- Decorative Lanterns
- Religious Symbols or Figurines
- Pieces Related to the Deceased’s Hobbies (i.e., model cars, sports memorabilia, etc.)
Families may opt to set up an area near the front of the venue where people can view photographs, poster boards of the deceased’s most popular quotes, or a space where attendees can pick up a memorial keepsake.
8. Create a Playlist
To create ambiance and add a personal touch to a funeral luncheon, consider playing soft music in the background. You needn’t choose only slow and somber tunes — feel free to add in some upbeat melodies, too, as long as they’re appropriate and honor the deceased.
When choosing music, think about the deceased’s favorite songs, songs related to mourning, or religious music (if the deceased was religious). Opt for songs that create a connection between the deceased and those in attendance.
Ensure that there is a way to play the music at the venue. If the facility doesn’t have options for playing your own music, you may need to bring your own Bluetooth Speaker or other setup.
9. Decide on Activities
Funeral luncheons are about honoring the deceased and celebrating their life and legacy. While these events tend to be somber, it’s perfectly acceptable to implement some lighthearted activities for attendees to partake in.
Some ideas include:
- Open Mic for Sharing Memories – Allow guests to come to the front of the venue and share their memories and stories about the deceased.
- Tribute Videos – Create and watch tribute videos of the deceased to honor their life and memory.
- “Memory Jenga” – Ask each guest to write a memory about the deceased and then play a game of Jenga. As each attendee pulls a block, they read it aloud.
- Crossword Puzzles About Deceased – Create and print a crossword puzzle with clues about the deceased’s life. Print enough copies for each guest (and extras, just in case).
- Painting Memorial Rocks – Set up a station where attendees can paint memorial rocks to leave at the gravesite.
Participating in games and other activities helps ease the burden of losing a loved one. Additionally, it brings the family closer together by encouraging mingling and socialization.
10. Host the Luncheon
Once you’ve finished all of the planning, prepare to host the luncheon.
Although funeral luncheons are rarely formal events, it’s important to remember basic etiquette.
- Dress appropriately. Wear proper funeral attire to the luncheon. If you’re unsure of what to wear, dress as you would for a formal religious event.
- Stay as composed as possible. While it’s normal to react emotionally to photographs, tribute videos, and shared memories, an explosive emotional outburst should be held in private. Retreat to the bathroom or another private area to compose yourself before rejoining the attendees.
- Avoid overindulging. When eating, take small portions to ensure that all attendees have the chance to eat. Additionally, if alcohol is served at the funeral luncheon, do not consume too much.
- Use your manners. Don’t speak with your mouth full, clean up after yourself, and do not make inappropriate jokes.
- Mingle and converse. Take time to talk with those sitting at the same table as you or those who speak to you in passing.
At the end of the luncheon, take some time to say goodbye and thank guests for coming.
Funeral luncheons provide friends and family an additional opportunity to honor and remember the deceased over food and socialization.
Remember to start with a budget and headcount before choosing the date, time, location, food, and decorations. Ensure there’s enough time between the event and sending out invitations to ensure they arrive on time. Then, prepare your playlist and activities in advance.
Although planning a luncheon requires several steps, overall, it’s a relatively straightforward process.