Hosting a Memorial Service or Reception at Home: 20 Tips


Memorial services and receptions can occur anywhere, and many people choose to host them in the comfort of their own home. With some careful planning and preparation, hosting a memorial or reception can be executed with ease.

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To help you think through the process of hosting a memorial event, we’ve compiled a list of 20 tips with helpful insights to help your event go off without a hitch.

What You’ll Need to Figure Out Before You Host a Memorial Service at Home

Planning a memorial service, or any type of get-together, takes a lot of planning. There are many questions you need to answer during the planning process that will guide the event itself. Ask yourself these questions as you get into the nitty-gritty of planning your loved one’s memorial service.

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1. What time of day will it be?

The answer to this question determines many things about your event. For example, if you’re having an evening memorial right around dinnertime, you might need to serve a meal alongside the event. If, on the other hand, the memorial will be in the middle of the day, you can probably serve light appetizers and finger foods, instead.

The time of day can also impact guest attendance. If invitees have small children, evening memorials might keep them from coming since they need to get their children to bed. Parents are more likely to attend daytime events and typically have an easier time finding someone to watch their kids for a few hours during the day.

2. Are you serving food?

If you’re planning to serve food, then you need to ask a second and more important question: do any of your guests have allergies? Some people can be extremely sensitive to food items like shellfish and nuts. If any guests are allergic, it’s best to keep those items off the menu. It’s also a good idea to know if people are unable to eat certain items, such as gluten. 

If you’re uncertain of guests’ allergies, stay away from typical allergens such as seafood and nuts, and try to provide an array of food items including gluten-free selections.

3. How many guests are invited?

You can approach this in one of two ways. First, you can decide on the guest list, then figure out if your home is large enough. Or you can figure out how many people will fit in your house and then determine the guest list.

If you have a particularly large guest list but not enough room at your home, you might ask another family member with a larger house to host instead. Alternately, you can host two separate memorial service times at your house and split the guest list into two groups.

Ultimately, it’s important that guests feel comfortable in your home. There should be enough chairs and places to sit and everyone invited should be able to enjoy attending without standing the entire time.

4. Will the event be inside or outside?

If you plan to set up outside in your backyard to take advantage of the beautiful spring or summer weather, plan on providing shaded areas for the older guests in attendance. If you’re expecting hotter weather, consider using pop-up shade canopies for the entire seating area to provide refuge from the sun. 

Cold-weather events should be accompanied by tents with portable gas heaters to keep people warm and cozy. Be sure to read up on other outdoor service or reception ideas if you’re planning for the whole event to be in your backyard.

Inside events require orchestration all their own. You’ll need to make sure you have plenty of seating areas, extra chairs, and a few outside seating areas available for guests that need to step outside for a breather. 

Tips for Preparing or Planning a Memorial Service at Your Home

Whether you’re planning a more formal affair or you’re planning an informal memorial service

at your home, use these tips to keep your planning on track and your sanity in place. 

5. Determine the order of events

Well ahead of time, plan out the order of events. Determine how much time there will be for mingling and talking, enjoying refreshments, and participating in the main event. Draw up a timeline for speakers and special elements such as music or videos. 

Pro tip: Print up a program with the memorial event timeline to hand out to key people or all in attendance.

6. Decide if there’s an age limit

Depending on your home and the seriousness of the event, you may decide that the event is not appropriate for small children. There is nothing wrong with this decision, but parents of young children should be forewarned. If there is an age limit, be sure to note this on the invitation.

Pro tip: Word this requirement on your invitations by saying, “Though we would love to have guests of every age, due to the nature of this event and limitations of space, we are unable to host children under ten years old.”

7. Consider offering on-site childcare

Getting a babysitter can be a challenge for parents. To avoid this issue, consider providing childcare at your home during the event. Set up a designated children’s room with coloring books, movies, access to kid-friendly food during the event, and a responsible adult to direct eating and playtime. 

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8. Set up an audiovisual system

Depending on how large your event is, you might want to rent an audiovisual system including a microphone, speakers, projector, and screen. Even in smaller backyards, an amplification system can help those speaking when they share their eulogy or speech.

9. Ask for help and delegate

Your family and friends will want to help you during this difficult time. If you receive offers of help, take them up on it. Consider these ways people can help:

  • Picking up guests from the airport 
  • Picking up pre-ordered food and flowers
  • Helping decorate
  • Greeting guests
  • Helping run the food and refreshments tables

10. Incorporate your loved one’s favorite things

One of the best ideas for hosting a memorial service at home involves incorporating your loved one’s favorite things, such as a favorite color, food, or song. Display much-loved items such as pictures, examples of their artwork, their prized motorcycle, or their bottle cap collection. These items are wonderful conversation starters and help bring the spirit and personality of your loved one into the event.

11. Invite loved ones to speak

Ask several friends or family members to speak at the service. Arrange for a mix of eulogies, readings of poetry, and speeches. If your family has musical talent, consider asking a few members to play a special musical number in honor of your loved one.

12. Create a playlist

Play light music in the background during a time of refreshments or after the main event is over to create a calming atmosphere. Consider playing music your loved one enjoyed, instrumental versions of their favorite songs, or other calming melodies that contribute to a soothing environment.

13. Visually represent your loved one

In addition to displaying a few items, be sure there is a visual representation of your loved one. This can come in many forms such as their urn, a wreath with their picture on it, or a large picture of your loved one displayed on an easel at the front of the room.

14. Decide whether you’ll record or live stream the event

You might find that you have guests unable to attend due to time, location, or health reasons. Consider live-streaming the event through Facebook or recording it and sending a copy of the recorded event to those unable to attend.

Day-Of Tips for Hosting a Memorial Service at Home

Planning an event is the hardest part. During the day of the event, keep these tips in mind to keep your event flowing smoothly.

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15. Stock your bathrooms

There’s nothing worse than having a guest locked inside the bathroom for lack of toilet paper. Make sure your bathrooms are well stocked with all of the necessary supplies.

16. Touch base with your helpers

Thank each person who is helping you for the day. Make sure they know the order of events and what their responsibilities are.

17. Enjoy your family and friends

Planning is a lot of work! On the day, be sure to enjoy the guests who have come to celebrate and honor your loved one. 

Tips for Hosting a Memorial Service Reception at Home

If your loved one’s memorial service occurred at another location and the reception is held at your house, your to-do list will be significantly shorter. There are, however, some tips to keep in mind.

18. Set up tables, chairs, and sound system a day or two ahead

On the day of the memorial, you want to travel from the event back home for the reception and have everything ready. Set up all seating and table arrangements well in advance. Test the sound system the day before so you know it’s in working order.

Pro tip: You might want to rent chairs and tables if you’re expecting an especially large group.

19. Consider catering

Depending on the size of your guest list, planning to purchase, prepare, and arrange the amount of food necessary might become an overwhelming task. Consider hiring a catering company, ordering food from a local restaurant, or ordering platters of meat, cheese, and fruit from a grocery store ahead of time. Anything you can do to lessen the work on your shoulders is a good idea when hosting events.

20. Serve food buffet style

If you have a smaller crowd or you’re comfortable with the amount of food prep, then set up food to be served buffet style. Line tables with platters of food, appetizers, finger foods, and drinks at one end with plates, napkins, silverware, and cups at the starting point. Guests can file through at their leisure during the time set aside for refreshments. 

Pro tip: Delegate a friend or relative to keep an eye on the food line to refill items as they get low.

Hosting an At-Home Memorial Service

Hosting a memorial service at home can be a lot of work, but there’s nothing like gathering friends and family to celebrate your loved one. The memories and shared stories will make the hours of planning and execution well worth it.

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