How to Plan a Great Funeral Reception: 14 Item Checklist


If you’ve ever attended a funeral, you might have gone to a family member’s house after the service for refreshments and conversation. 

This get-together is known as a reception (or repast), and it’s a common feature of most funeral services and memorials. The reception is an opportunity to connect with others who are grieving and to reminisce, and it’s a more casual time to celebrate the life of the deceased. 

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If you’re in charge of planning a loved one’s funeral reception, though, you might not know where to begin. Most of us don’t plan many receptions throughout our lives, if we’re lucky. Unlike holiday dinners and birthdays, funeral receptions aren’t a yearly occurrence, and our family and friends might not know how to go about it, either. 

So to help you plan the best possible funeral reception for your loved one, we’ve put together an easy-to-follow checklist, below. 

Checklist for Planning a Funeral Reception

As you’re planning the funeral reception, remember that your goal is to bring people together (whether in person or virtually). 

A funeral reception doesn’t need to include activities, an impressive menu, or any type of entertainment. The focus should be on each other’s company and on remembering the departed. 

So with that in mind, here are the things you’ll need to check off as you’re planning a funeral reception. 

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1. Choose the location

First, you’ll need to decide where you want to hold the reception. This depends on the number of people you’re inviting, as well as the accessibility of venues in your area. 

You can hold the reception: 

  • In your home or a family member’s home. This is ideal if you’re inviting a small number of guests, and you’re comfortable with the idea. An at-home funeral reception lends a feeling of comfort and intimacy to the gathering. 
  • At the funeral home. Many funeral homes have a space for receptions. This can work if you’re hosting a larger number of guests or inviting everyone at the funeral to the reception. But the gathering can feel more formal, and people might not stick around very long. 
  • At a church or community venue. If the funeral is taking place at a church or a public venue, you may have everyone return there after the burial for the reception. Many churches have more intimate spaces for such events. 
  • At a park. Weather permitting, you can have a picnic-style reception outdoors.  

If you’re not sure where to hold your funeral reception, speak with your funeral director. They have a wealth of experience when it comes to planning funeral services and repasts, and they can help you make the best choice. 

2. Choose a time

Most funeral receptions are held immediately after the funeral and burial. But you can also have it later in the day or even a few days later. If you have guests traveling to the funeral from out of town, it’s best to have the reception on the same day as the service.  

Some families hold a larger reception after the funeral and a smaller one the next day, or at a later date, for only close family members. 

3. Decide how to invite your guests

If you’re inviting everyone at the funeral to the reception, you can simply make an announcement after the service. You’ll need to provide your address and some directions to your home or the venue for those who don’t use a GPS app. 

If you want to invite only a select number of people from the service, you’ll need to mail or discreetly hand out invitations to the reception. You can also send out the invitations as an email. 

As mentioned, you can also hold two different receptions: one for everyone, and one for a select few. 

4. Create invitations

If you’re sending or handing out invitations, include the following information: 

  • Name of the deceased person. 
  • Their date of birth and date of death. 
  • An invitation to attend the reception. 
  • The date and time of the reception. 
  • The location (it’s helpful to include a map image). 
  • RSVP (if you send out the invitations well ahead of time).

If you need some guidance wording the invitation, read our guide on funeral reception invitation wording.

5. Provide refreshments

You don’t need to serve a full meal at a funeral reception. But most receptions include some kind of refreshments.

You may choose to provide all of the food and drinks yourself, or you may ask other family members and friends to help. You could also have the reception catered, especially if you’re holding it at the funeral home or a public venue.

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6. Create a welcoming environment 

If you’re hosting the reception at home, you should try and make the space as welcoming for guests as possible. Make sure there’s plenty of seating available and put away as much clutter as you can. 

It’s a good idea to play some neutral background music in the main space, like the kitchen or dining room. Avoid music with distracting lyrics or clashing instrumentals. 

You may also want to put something neutral (like a football or basketball game) on the TV with the volume muted. This gives people something to do at the reception if they just want to take a moment to themselves.

7. Pay respect to the departed

You don’t have to decorate your home for the reception, but you may put out a few remembrances to the departed as an added touch. 

Consider placing a few framed photos on an end table or the table where food is being served. You can also display the flowers and gifts that guests gave to the family as sympathy gifts. 

Checklist of Considerations for Planning a Funeral Reception During COVID-19

COVID-19 has a knack for throwing a wrench into any plans. And arranging a funeral or putting together a repast is no different. If you’re planning a funeral reception during COVID-19, keep these considerations in mind. 

8. Check your local regulations

Each state and county has its own COVID-19 restrictions, so you’ll need to check yours. Visit your state’s government website for a list of each county’s COVID-19 restrictions. Make sure you stay up-to-date about which phase your city and county are currently in, as this can change on a week-to-week basis. 

9. Increase the space per guest

Your local regulations should require specific numbers about how many people you can host in your home. But in general, keep in mind that each guest will need to maintain six feet of space (at least) around them. This may mean hosting the reception in a larger space, or outside, or inviting fewer people. 

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10. Make individual portions or utensil-only foods

Prior to COVID-19, it was common to put out platters of finger foods at informal gatherings like funeral receptions. For example, you might put out a platter of vegetables with ranch dressing, chips and dip, or cheese and crackers. 

But to prevent the spread of COVID-19, you should avoid this type of serving style. Instead, set out plates with pre-portioned snacks, or offer non-finger-foods (like pasta, potatoes, or salad) instead. 

11. Provide masks

Evidence confirms that masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19. If you’re holding the reception in an enclosed space, it’s important to provide disposable masks in case your guests forget theirs. It’s also a good idea to provide masks at the funeral itself. 

12. Set up sanitizing stations

In addition to stocking your kitchen and bathrooms with hand soap, it’s a good idea to set up hand-sanitizing stations. You can place a pump bottle of hand sanitizer on a table beside the front door for people to use on their way in and out. You can also set up a station on the table where you’ll be serving food. 

13. Ask that vulnerable individuals and those showing symptoms not attend in person

Unfortunately, it might not be safe for everyone to attend a funeral or a funeral reception during the pandemic. It’s appropriate to ask that anyone showing symptoms, like a cough, shortness of breath, or fever, not attend. 

You can also ask that those who are especially vulnerable, like the elderly and those with compromised immune symptoms, stay home if they feel unsafe in attending. 

Make it clear that you won’t hold it against anyone if they choose not to attend in person. 

14. Provide a remote option for everyone

Some of your invitees might want to attend the reception but not be able to do so in person. You can use a video call service, like Zoom, to let those people attend virtually. 

And if you’re hosting a remote funeral service, you might want to host a remote reception, too. You can use the same service you use for the funeral to host your reception. 

Why Do We Have Funeral Receptions? 

You might be wondering if holding a reception is completely necessary. And of course, you don’t have to host a reception if you don’t want to. You might choose not to hold a reception if too few family members can make it, or if you’re unfamiliar with many of the guests. 

But keep in mind that there are many good reasons to hold a funeral reception. A funeral reception: 

  • Gives funeral attendees a chance to comfort each other. 
  • Brings people together from all of the different parts of the deceased person’s life, from work friends to close family members. 
  • Gives guests the opportunity to offer their condolences to the family and share sympathy gifts. 
  • Is a time to celebrate the life of the departed, whereas a funeral might be more serious and formal in tone. 

So even though planning or attending a funeral reception might take time and effort, most families find it worthwhile and uplifting.

  1. “New study highlights new evidence that masks prevent coronavirus spread.” Cleveland Clinic. 28 August 2020. 

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