20+ Unique Funeral Reception Ideas for Refreshments, Decorations & Venues

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A funeral reception or repast is when you gather friends and family together after a formal funeral ceremony to celebrate the life of the deceased and offer condolences.

While the funeral or memorial service is a great way to honor the deceased, it’s a formal occasion. The reception offers guests to socialize, offer sympathy, and share grief in a less formal setting. 

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The funeral reception also offers families an opportunity to create a unique experience. Taking the time to think of food, drink, decoration ideas, and so on really helps personalize the event to memorialize a loved one. 

These small details not only make the day more meaningful for the bereaved family, but they also are a testament to the bond of loved ones. For some inspiration, review these 20+ unique funeral reception ideas.

Virtual funeral tip: If you host a virtual funeral with a service like GatheringUs, you can create smaller "reception" rooms after the main event. Just like with in-person funeral receptions, you can invite just your closest family and friends for a more intimate gathering and more open conversation.  

Invitation tip: If you decide that you want to take the extra step of creating invitations for this event, here is our guide to funeral reception invitation wording.

Funeral Reception Food and Drink Ideas

When learning how to plan a funeral for someone else, you’ll quickly discover that food and drink are one of the biggest components of the occasion.

Food brings everyone together. Whether you choose comfort food or something easy, these dishes are sure to bring everyone closer. 

1. Favorite food

The first option is to serve food and drink in honor of the deceased. Consider their favorite cuisine and treats. If they were around today, what would they want served?

Eating these favorites brings their memory to life in a small way, offering comfort in times of grief. 

2. Breakfast buffet

Though less conventional, it’s not uncommon for funerals to be held in the morning. Serving a brunch buffet or breakfast buffet after is a great way to share a morning with friends and family in honor of loved ones. Because this food is relatively inexpensive, this is also an effective way to save some money. 

3. Sandwich bar

While finger foods are usually a natural choice for funerals, step things up a bit with a sandwich bar. This allows you to purchase meats and cheeses in bulk, saving money overall. Not only can everyone make what they want, but this is a hearty meal. 

4. Family potluck

Because serving a large amount of food can be costly and time-consuming, consider asking guests to bring a dish of their own.

If everyone brings something different, this takes the stress out of preparations while also allowing for a lot of diversity in offerings. Just make sure everyone is assigned a dish so there are no repeats. 

5. International flavor

If the deceased had a favorite part of the world or a passion for traveling, serving up something with international flavor is a great idea.

Have the event catered from a local restaurant or make something yourself with love. 

6. Food truck

Funerals are evolving, and so are receptions. Though definitely not traditional, a food truck is an inexpensive catering idea that offers a lot of flexibility and delicious flavors. This is also a nice way to pay tribute to a beloved local community. 

7. Happy hours

If the family and friends are open to it, hosting a funeral reception happy hour could honor the deceased’s favorite libations (alcoholic or nonalcoholic). Create a signature drink named after the deceased, and cheers to their life well-lived. 

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Funeral Reception Decoration Ideas

While food and drink are a big component of any funeral reception, so are decorations. However, decorations don’t have to be expensive or complicated. Here are unique decoration ideas for any reception that are personalizable to the individual or family. 

8. Share a guestbook

It’s not always easy for guests to process their feelings at a funeral reception. They might feel intimidated by sharing their thoughts in front of others.

Having a simple guestbook available makes it easy for friends and family to leave memories, kind words, and other condolences. 

9. Make a memory board

A memory board could be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. In essence, this is a blank board that represents the deceased’s life.

Guests can add things to it like photos, letters, mementos, and quotes to create a mismatched patchwork of someone’s legacy. This is a touching memory for the family, and it’s a great way to spark a conversation. 

10. Be colorful

While it’s tempting to choose all neutral colors or all black for the funeral reception, this tradition is slowly changing.

Embracing colors as part of the funeral service is more common than ever. Whether they had a beloved sports team or always wore a purple sweater, these colors are what define us. 

11. Light candles

Lighting candles is a way to symbolize the memory of a soul in many cultures throughout the world. It’s also a simple way to add decoration to any memorial service. Lighting a few candles or having some available for guests to light is a powerful symbol of one’s light. 

12. Share personal favors

Funeral favors are in no way required, but they are a touching memory for loved ones to take with them. Whether you give photos of the family, thank you notes, or delicious treats, don’t be afraid to display them as part of the reception decor. 

13. Personalized slideshow

You can also get digital with your decorations. Displaying a slideshow within the reception space is a great way to draw attention to the loved one’s life without any frills.

Most reception venues have their own slideshow equipment to share, so this is an inexpensive choice that’s sure to be a hit. 

Funeral Reception Venue Ideas

There are no rules when it comes to the funeral reception. You can hold it anywhere that has meaning to you or your family. While most choose a religious center or funeral home, don’t let these traditions hold you back. Here are some additional ideas. 

14. Local restaurant

If your loved one always loved the Italian spot downtown or they frequent a family restaurant, this is a great idea for a venue.

This also combines the catering and the reception in one, saving on planning time. Many local restaurants can accommodate large groups, and some might even have a larger reception space available. 

15. Sports hall or stadium

While this might be an obvious choice, any sports lover can attest to the fact that these halls and stadiums carry a lot of meaning.

Many sports venues rent out spaces for events, and a funeral reception is no exception. What better way to honor one’s love for the game, whether as a player or a fan?

16. Family home

Family begins at home, so having a reception at a loved one’s home is an easy choice. While space doesn’t always allow, a family home is a free, personal option that allows loved ones to grieve in comfortable surroundings. 

17. Local park

Parks are where we go to escape the hustle of everyday life, and they remind us of our connection with nature.

For grieving loved ones, they also bring us closer to those who are no longer with us. Having your reception in an outdoor space is a powerful way to enjoy the great outdoors and let the sun shine on your event. 

18. Club or organization space

If your loved one was a member of an organization, you might be able to access their club or organization space for free or a low cost.

This is an excellent tribute to their service and their passions, and these spaces are typically very functional. 

19. Boat or ship

The ocean is a metaphor for many things, including life and death. Though the waves may be rocky at times, we find our way back to shore.

Having a funeral reception on the water is not only a gorgeous way to celebrate someone’s life, but it’s also an inspiring symbol of overcoming grief. 

20. Pub or bar

Last but not least, honor your loved one with a drink in his or her honor. While not a fit for everyone, a pub or a bar is a cozy, intimate space for a funeral reception.

It’s the perfect way to share a final round in their name. 

Planning a Personalized Funeral Reception

While much of the funeral focus goes on the service itself, the reception deserves just as much thought. Like with today’s modern celebration of life party ideas, there are a lot of unique ways to customize a funeral reception. From a funky venue to a personalized menu, this is an event that’s all about coming together with the ones you love. 

While it’s hard to plan an event while dealing with a loss, this is a powerful way to honor someone’s memory and create a legacy that lasts. Have you given any thought to what you want at your own funeral reception?

Having these conversations with the one you love now is the best way to ensure they know what you want in the future. In a perfect world, our funeral reception will plan itself. Until that day, make the best decisions you can on behalf of the ones you love. 

If you're looking for more unique funeral ideas, read our guides on strange funeral traditions from around the world or about the different types of funerals.

Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, you have more than just the funeral reception to think about. Handling their unfinished business can be overwhelming without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.

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