How to Plan an Informal Memorial Service: Step-By-Step

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With the cost of funeral and memorial services often reaching thousands of dollars, it’s understandable for people to look for less expensive alternatives. In addition, the traditional, formal nature of memorials can be off-putting for some who would rather do something more casual. 

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An option that isn’t talked about as frequently is an informal memorial service. This is similar to how you plan a memorial service, but you can pick and choose the elements you want to keep. 

An informal memorial service still gives the family their opportunity to say goodbye without the stress of a larger, more extravagant service. In this guide, we’ll explain how to plan an informal memorial service step-by-step.

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Steps for Planning an Informal or Casual Memorial Service

Steps for planning an informal or casual memorial service with an image of flowers in the background

There are a lot of different memorial service ideas to consider, even with an informal service. To avoid planning fatigue, follow the steps below to create a casual, heartwarming event to honor your loved one. 

1. Choose a date and time

The first step is to choose a date and time for your informal service. Most families choose a date relatively soon after the death, burial, or cremation. This is typically within two weeks of the passing, but there are no strict rules. 

Because it’s informal, the memorial service can be held weeks or even months after the deceased has been laid to rest. Choose the date or time that works best for you and your guests, and don’t feel pressured to make it a long, several-hour event if you prefer something shorter. 

2. Choose your venue

Next, it’s time to choose your venue. A traditional memorial service is typically held at a funeral home or church, but this can be costly. Instead, consider an informal location like any of the following:

  • Family home
  • Local park
  • Restaurant, bar, or cafe
  • Family backyard
  • Church or religious center

Make sure your venue of choice has enough space for people to gather comfortably, and have people bring extra seating if needed. If you’re hosting in a public space, you might need to rent an area if you’re inviting a larger group of attendees.

3. Invite your guests

Next, invite your guests to the service. Since this is an informal event, you don’t need to print any fancy invitations if that’s not in your budget. A quick phone call, text, or email is likely enough. You could also publish this information in the obituary or death announcement. 

Make it clear in the invitation that this is a casual event. For example, you might say, “Please join us for an informal gathering to honor (Name)’s life.” This ensures they don’t overdress or over-prepare. 

4. Prepare food and refreshments

Food brings people together, and it’s common to include some food and drink as part of an informal gathering. 

You don’t need to hire a caterer or prepare anything complicated if you don’t want to. You could ask each guest to bring a favorite dish, or just pick up appetizers from your grocery store. 

5. Make a schedule

Even though this is an informal memorial service, you’ll still want to have a memorial service program. A program ensures the event runs smoothly and that everyone knows what to expect. 

Set one person in charge of speaking and leading the event. This person can direct the day, share sentiments, and invite others to speak. You can create as structured or unstructured a service as you’d like, but it’s common to include some of the following:

  • Poem or prayer reading
  • Eulogy reading
  • Final remarks from family members
  • Moment of silence or prayer
  • Slideshow or photo display
  • Repast or group meal

If you’re allowing others to speak, let them know in advance so they can prepare a few words. From there, have the officiant invite guests to share their thoughts when the time is right. Having a schedule keeps the proceedings running smoothly. 

6. Decorate with photos and memories

Last but not least, prepare the space with photos and memories of the deceased. While you don’t need to go overboard, it’s nice to have a few photographs and memories of the person around the space. 

You can have their photo professionally printed, or just create a memorial display yourself. Another option is to make a slideshow with photos and videos from the deceased’s life. This is easy to display on a projector or TV, and it’s free to make yourself. As you play the slideshow, you can play funeral songs or your loved one’s favorite songs as a final send-off. 

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Informal Memorial Service Ideas

List of ideas for an informal memorial service with images of flowers

There are so many ways to honor the ones you love, and each is more unique than the next. Though there’s a misconception that you have to spend a lot of money and time to create a remarkable memorial service, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. 

Try these informal memorial service ideas to create something unique and memorable. This event is all about saying goodbye and honoring the one you love. 

Ideas for an informal service at home

An at-home service is highly personal, and it allows everyone to grieve in a comfortable, cozy space. There are a lot of ways to have an informal service at home. 

Potluck or feast

Who doesn’t love a family meal? Bring everyone together to reminisce about their loved one over a family potluck or feast. Have each guest bring their own dish, especially if it’s something the deceased loved. Then, share these dishes together around the family table. 

Movie night

If your loved one had a favorite film, honor this legacy by hosting a family movie night. Gathering together to watch a movie is a powerful tribute, and it’s a way to feel closer to their memory. 

Family candle lighting

Another creative at-home tribute is to hold a candle lighting service. All you need is a variety of inexpensive candles. From there, wait until the sun goes down and say a few words in the person’s honor. 

Plant a tree

If you have a backyard or garden available at home, planting a tree or another plan in the deceased’s honor is a powerful way to say goodbye. Though you don’t want to bury their ashes with the tree as this can harm the soil, this is still a unique symbol of life. 

Ideas for an informal service at a venue

If you don’t have space at home for a service, you can also host one at a non-traditional venue. The ideas below are easy to personalize to honor someone’s unique interests and personality. 

Memorial picnic

Taking a few moments to reflect in nature with the ones you love can be a truly remarkable sendoff. A memorial picnic at a local park or green space gives everyone the ability to come together outdoors--a reminder that life goes on. 

Scattering ceremony

If your loved one was cremated, you can include an informal memorial service as part of their ash scattering ceremony. Saying a few words and coming together as you release the ashes somewhere special carries a lot of meaning. 

Local restaurant or bar

Did your loved one frequent a favorite restaurant or bar? Gathering a few friends and family to visit the restaurant or bar for a meal or round of drinks is one of the many ways to say goodbye. 

Family trip

Though it might be more costly, taking a trip together as a family after a passing brings everyone together. Having a family trip, no matter how far or near, gives everyone a chance to say their goodbyes over several days. 

Lantern release

In many cultures, releasing lanterns is one of the many ways to celebrate and remember ancestors. Lighting a lantern for the deceased is a beautiful way to hold a small, intimate memorial service. You can make a lantern yourself or purchase a biodegradable one just for this day. 

Celebrate on Your Own Terms

The guide above just goes to show that there are no limits to remembrance. As long as you’re doing something meaningful, you should feel confident honoring your loved one in the way that feels best to you. From an at-home gathering to a service at a meaningful venue, there are so many ways to say goodbye with a unique and informal memorial service. 

While formal memorials have a time and place, they’re not always a fit for your budget and needs. Something informal is just as valuable, and it allows you a lot more freedom to be creative. 

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