10 Steps To Plan a Memorable Funeral Reception

Funeral reception planning can be difficult, especially with the emotional rollercoaster that paying your final respects to the dearly departed entails. A funeral reception is an opportunity for friends and family of the deceased to reminisce, bond together, and receive much-needed support for their grief. If you’re at a loss when planning this important part of the funeral, you’re in the right place!

Here are 10 steps to plan a memorable funeral reception:

  1. Decide the nature of the reception.
  2. Estimate how many guests there will be.
  3. Double-check your local regulations on funeral receptions.
  4. Choose the location, date, and time of the reception.
  5. Create a budget.
  6. Make plans for food and drinks.
  7. Plan the décor and seating arrangements.
  8. Schedule memorial activities for the funeral reception.
  9. Create and send invitations to your guests.
  10. Create a checklist to keep the reception organized. 

If you’d like to find out more details on how to plan each stage of the funeral reception and what your options are, keep reading!

1. Decide the Nature of the Reception

Unlike events like wedding ceremonies and birthdays, the best way to host a funeral reception isn’t set in stone. This means you’re welcome to think outside the box during the planning process.

Still, that doesn’t mean you should go about the process haphazardly. When choosing the nature of a funeral reception, you have to balance what that reception is supposed to do with what you and your guests want to get out of it. 

Remember that a funeral reception helps to bring together the departed’s family and friends. Unlike the funeral ceremony, the reception allows them to bond and celebrate the deceased person’s life in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.

The passing of a loved one is an emotionally draining experience. A funeral reception serves as an avenue for the deceased’s friends and family to let their hair down and share memories related to the departed. 

The most important factors for deciding the nature of a funeral reception are:

  • The style that the deceased would have wanted
  • An informal, relaxed ambiance for the guests
  • Celebrating the person and memories of the deceased
  • Providing emotional support for the bereaved 
  • Sharing sympathy gifts with the immediate family of the deceased

With these factors in mind, you can plan the best possible funeral reception for your deceased loved one. 

Normally, the theme of a funeral reception is based on one or more things that had sentimental importance to the departed. For example, you can have:

  • An informal ball at a historic mansion for a history fan
  • A friendly game at a sports stadium for a sports enthusiast
  • A park or botanical garden reception for a lover of nature
  • A ranch or farm cookout for a fan of the countryside
  • Brunch hosted at the home of a close relative of the departed
  • Performance of the art (e.g., music or theater) the departed enjoyed during their lifetime

2. Estimate How Many Guests There Will Be

After having a clear mental picture of the funeral reception you want to have, the next thing to figure out is how many guests will be attending the event.

You need to have a good estimate of the number of guests early in your planning. How many attendees you expect will determine the size and scale of the funeral reception given your limited budget and the kind of reception you want to have.

In particular, if you’re hosting an unconventional funeral reception (like some of the ones I previously mentioned), your choice of venue may limit how many people can attend the reception. 

Normally, funeral reception guests include people from the following groups:

  • The immediate nuclear family of the departed
  • Their extended family – uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, nieces, and in-laws
  • Their most intimate friends
  • The neighbors of the departed
  • Their co-workers and work-friends
  • The religious family of the deceased
  • Members of organizations where the deceased worked

Depending on how intimate you’d like the funeral reception to be, you can choose which groups to invite. You can also choose to invite only a handful of people from a group or several groups. 

As you work through the list and decide who your invitees will be, make a rough estimate of how many guests you’ll invite from each group.

If you don’t mind going about it the old-fashioned way, you can scribble the names of people who are likely to attend your loved one’s funeral reception. Remember to account for changes in your estimate as your planning progresses. 

3. Double-Check Your Local Regulations on Funeral Receptions

When planning a funeral reception, you should also be aware of local rules and regulations for organizing events. Although there are general requirements for hosting events in the U.S., the specific regulations often vary between states and counties. The estimated number of guests may also determine which regulations apply to you. 

Let’s discuss the general legal provisions you should plan for when organizing a funeral reception.

Child Protection Policy

The host or planner of an event is legally responsible for any children present at the event. Children often attend funeral receptions as members of the bereaved family or to accompany their parents, so it’s wise to make arrangements for their care. 

Examples of measures you can put in place for children include:

  • Keeping minors away from any alcohol served
  • Assigning a chaperone to look after younger children
  • Cordoning off a child-friendly section of the venue to maintain order
  • Avoiding any potentially hazardous objects in the venue
  • Providing entertainment and activities to keep children occupied
  • Making plans for a search party in case a child gets lost

Special Event Permit

States like Los Angeles require a special event permit for certain events. You need to find out which permits you need to secure. The type of permit will likely depend on your venue and the number of guests attending.  

For example, if you’re planning a funeral reception that won’t be held on private property or will have up to 1,000 guests, you should probably consult a lawyer who’s an expert on special event permits in your area.

You may also need to get an inspection for any food that you’ll serve at the reception. Some states may require a Health Department Permit or liquor license from you or your food vendor.

4. Choose the Location, Date, and Time of the Reception

The best time for a funeral reception is immediately after the funeral service. This is for the convenience of guests who need to travel from far away to attend the funeral. It’s also easier for the ones left behind to wrap up all the events and associated formalities in one day.

That said, the date and time you choose should be as convenient for the family and friends of the departed as possible. Some prefer to hold the reception much later after the funeral. Other families may choose to hold a large reception for the general public and a smaller, more intimate one for the family.

As for the location of a funeral reception, it depends on the nature of the event (as you should have accounted for in Step 1). The location will make or break the ambiance you want to create for the funeral reception, and how true you’ll stay to the wishes of the deceased.

In case you’re at a loss for ideas, here are the best location recommendations for a traditional funeral reception:

  • The home of a relative or close friend
  • A funeral parlor
  • The place of worship of the departed
  • An outdoor park, garden, or observatory
  • A local community center
  • A restaurant or bar
  • A banquet hall

For a more personalized funeral reception, you can choose a relaxed spot or another place with sentimental value to the deceased. For example, you can go to (or on):

  • A boat or yacht
  • A cinema
  • An art theater
  • A zoological garden
  • A sports stadium
  • A countryside ranch
  • A food truck

5. Create a Budget

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the average cost of a funeral ranges from $6,971 to $7,848, depending on the mode of burial. That’s a significant cost to start with, so the last thing you want is to spend too much post-funeral. The best way to limit the cost of a funeral reception is to make a carefully planned budget to guide all of your expenditures.

The major elements of your budget should include:

  • Cost of renting a venue: This will likely be around $6,000. An intimate reception at home will considerably cut your funeral reception costs.
  • Cost of photography and videography: If you’d like professional audio-visual coverage of your funeral reception, you’ll need an average of $2,000 for a photographer and $1,799 for a videographer. A much cheaper alternative is to set up good lighting and cover the event yourself with a phone or camera (if you don’t mind the lack of a polished look that comes from professional photography/videography, of course).
  • Cost of invitations: If you’ll be making custom invitations, they can cost up to $500.
  • Cost of catering: The cost of food and drinks can run to an average of $70 per guest.
  • Cost of decorations: The cost of your decorations will largely depend on the venue and nature of the funeral reception. On average, décors can cost $2,000 to $10,000.
  • Cost of memorabilia: A funeral reception isn’t complete without celebrating the memories of your deceased loved one in some way. The cost of memorabilia can vary widely, but it’s safe to allocate at least 5% of your total budget to this.

6. Make Plans for Food and Drinks

There are a variety of options for food catering at a funeral reception. Most prefer to include meals or refreshments in the reception but providing food and drinks is entirely optional. 

If you want to serve meals at the funeral reception you’re planning, here are suggestions to consider:

  • A sit-down breakfast, brunch, or dinner
  • A buffet
  • A potluck
  • A food-station lunch
  • A cocktail reception
  • A champagne-and-cake dessert reception

When deciding what food and drinks to serve at the reception, make sure you account for your guest’s personal preferences, allergies, and cultural or religious beliefs. For example, you may have guests who are vegans or who cannot eat certain food due to their religion (e.g., Muslims aren’t allowed to eat pork, and Hindus aren’t allowed to eat beef). 

You can write something in the invite along the lines of “As I will serve food and refreshments at the reception, please let me know ahead of time if you have any dietary restrictions I need to be aware of.” That way, you’ll minimize the likelihood of dealing with nasty surprises like an allergy attack during what’s supposed to be a relaxed event for everyone.

7. Plan the Décor and Seating Arrangements

As I’ve mentioned, the goal of a funeral reception is to create a relaxed atmosphere for the memory of the departed, and the décor is crucial to this. For a reception hosted at home, all you need to do is clear away clutter, set up seats, and create a homey atmosphere.

If you’re using a venue other than your house, you’ll need to factor in the cost of cleaning, rentals, and flower arrangements as well. Pictures, memory walls, and a guestbook also help to capture memories of the reception.

Chinese Funeral flowers for one s personal picture.

8. Schedule Memorial Activities for the Funeral Reception

Memorial activities are an important part of planning a funeral reception. You can take the opportunity to create personalized items for remembering the loved one. Examples of these are:

  • Memorial bracelets
  • A memorial website
  • Customized memorial T-shirts
  • Memorial candles
  • A memorial photo-book

9. Create and Send Invitations to Your Guests

As soon as you have all the aspects of the funeral reception planned out, you can spread the word and invite guests. You can make personalized physical or virtual invites to send to friends and family for an intimate reception. A more public option is to make an announcement on social media or at the funeral ceremony.

10. Create a Checklist To Keep the Reception Organized

Planning a funeral reception can be an overwhelming experience, as there are so many moving parts to keep track of. A helpful trick is to create a checklist. Write down all of the above that I just outlined, and then make lists of everything you need to do underneath. 

Of course, you still have to put in the hard work to plan a funeral reception that will move as smoothly as possible. But a checklist will cut down at least half of the work you need to do for an event that may already be emotionally and physically draining to begin with.


Knowing how to plan a funeral reception is the first step to ensuring that remembering your dearly departed will be as stress-free as possible. I hope the above steps will help you plan a reception that you and your guests will remember fondly.


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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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