In one of our previous articles we looked at how funerals have changed over recent years, with the focus often now being as much on celebrating the life of the person that has passed away as it is on mourning their passing. We also explained how funerals are increasingly unique affairs, personalised to reflect the life of the person that has passed away, with details added to the funeral service that have some meaning to that individual.
The post funeral reception is as much a part of that changing trend as the funeral service itself, so this article will provide a few thoughts and ideas about what you can do when it comes to organising a post funeral reception for a loved one.
What is the purpose of the post funeral reception?
There was a time not so very long ago when families would all live near to each other and therefore see each other on a regular basis. However, these days it is quite common for people to leave the area that they were born or brought up in to go to university, or to move for work or family purposes. Families are, therefore, often scattered across the country if not across the world, and despite modern technology providing new ways of keeping in touch, a funeral can sometimes, sadly, be one of the rare occasions when all the members of the family meet up.
Even if family members remain concentrated in one geographical area, it would be surprising if people did not have friends and acquaintances from different parts of the country, and therefore it is likely that at least some of the people attending a funeral will have travelled a considerable distance to be there. They will therefore expect to have the chance to catch up with or meet people and to rest and refresh themselves before travelling back home.
A post funeral reception also allows people to reflect on the life of the person who has passed away in a more informal way than during the funeral service. Everyone gets a chance to exchange stories and talk about that person, share memories of them with other people and provide support and comfort to close relatives and friends who are grieving.
So, what do you need to think about when it comes to organising a post funeral reception?
What sort of reception?
Like a funeral, a funeral reception can still be a traditional affair, or it can be more of a unique occasion. Just because other people are choosing to personalise receptions and make them celebrations does not mean that you have to. You should do what you think your loved one would have wanted, what you think is appropriate and what your family and friends will be comfortable with. You might choose to have a formal sit-down occasion or perhaps just a very casual get together afterwards.
How many people will be attending?
Decide who you want to come to the funeral reception – is it for everyone attending the funeral, or just very close friends and family? It is important that you have at least a rough idea of how many people are likely to be attending the reception so that you can judge how much food and drink and how big a venue you need to provide.
Make sure when you tell people about the funeral that you also tell them that there will be a reception afterwards and ask them if they are likely to come along so that you can have an idea of attendance. It would be extremely embarrassing to have to turn people away because you have not booked a big enough venue, but also extremely upsetting to book a large venue and lots of food, only for a small number of people to turn up.
What venue to choose?
Traditionally, post funeral receptions have taken place in church halls or parish rooms next to the church where the funeral has taken place, but as religion increasingly plays less of a role in funerals the funeral might not take place in a place of worship at all.
The choice of venue is a key way of personalising the post funeral reception. If you are only expecting a small gathering, you could hold the event at the home of the person who has passed away – nothing could be more unique or personal to that individual than their home.
Alternatively, you could choose to hold it in a venue that meant something to them – their local pub possibly, or a favourite restaurant, cafe, social club or hotel. The choice of venue potentially gives you the option to be imaginative. If they were a keen sports player then enquire to see if it could be held where they used to play – their local football, cricket, rugby or netball club for example. If they were a keen musician or actor then maybe the concert hall or theatre where they used to perform would be available. There really are a wide variety of options.
When organising a venue, make sure you think about timings. What time is the funeral due to start, when will it finish, how long will it take people to travel from the location of the funeral to the reception venue and, therefore, what time will people start to arrive at the venue and what time are they likely to leave. You obviously want to make sure that everything is ready at the venue by the time people start to arrive and you also need to book it for long enough to cover the period that people will want to be there.
If some of the people there are family members who have travelled a long way and have not seen other family members for a long time then they are probably not going to be in a hurry to leave. They will want to stay and chat, to have a real good catch up and also talk about the person who has passed away. You do not want to be in a position where you have to ask people to leave because you have only booked the venue for an hour or two. Alternatively, if you want a specific venue but can only book it for an hour or two, make sure people know that and have a back up where people can go to after the main reception, such as a pub or someone’s house, so that the event can continue informally.
What to do about catering?
If you are providing a post funeral reception then your guests will expect food and drink of some description. You have three broad options when it comes to catering: do it yourself, get an outside catering company to do it and bring it to the venue, or hold the reception in a venue which also provides food and drink, such as a pub, hotel or restaurant.
Whichever option you choose, you will need to have at least a vague idea of numbers. You do not want to spend lots of money on food and drink only for there to be loads left over, but at the same time you want to have enough and for people who have travelled a long way to not go away feeling hungry.
If you are providing the catering yourself, think about the logistics. Are you going to have time to prepare food and drink on the day of the funeral as well as doing other things? Who will serve food and drink and will it be ready when people get to the venue, or will they have to wait for you to sort it out? Also, do not forget to cater for vegetarians and people with special dietary needs.
Catering is another opportunity for you to personalise the reception. You might want to serve your loved one’s favourite food or drink – maybe they loved Italian food, fish and chips, pie and chips, or a type of food traditional to the county, region or country that they come from or where they lived. Alternatively, they might just have had a favourite pub or restaurant, and enjoyed any food that was served there.
The same applies with drink. Maybe they were a real ale fan, or liked nothing more than a nice cup of tea. Perhaps they had a favourite spirit – if so, why not offer your guests a shot of whisky, gin, vodka or whatever tipple they liked, as a toast to remember them by. It is quite normal to offer alcohol such as wine, beer and perhaps sherry at a funeral reception, but make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic options as well for those who are driving, are too young or who do not drink, including tea, coffee and soft drinks. If you are using an outside catering company, talk to them about your options.
What to do about entertainment?
Once again this comes down to the personalisation element. You may feel that it is completely inappropriate to have any form of entertainment at a post funeral reception, and instead just want to sit down quietly with friends and family and reflect on the life of your loved one.
Alternatively, you really might want this to be a proper celebration of their life, and be determined to have a party. Or you might want something in between – a bit of background music, but nothing that intrudes into the proceedings too much.
If the person who has passed away liked a particular type of music, such as country or jazz, or music related to a particular region or country, then this is another opportunity to personalise the event. You could get a singer or band to perform, or could just play some music through a CD player.
It also might be nice (although poignant) to create a photo display of their life, provide a slide show and a talk about them, or decorate the venue with some items that people would associate with that person and which meant something to them.
How big is the budget?
Make sure you budget for the occasion. It can be very easy when you are feeling upset and experiencing grief and shock to go ahead and organise things without thinking about the cost implications, feeling that no cost is too much for the person who has just passed away. Just remember that you need to be able to afford it, so work out what you can reasonably afford to pay out and try to stick to that. Factor in the hire of the venue, catering and entertainment, if appropriate.
Notifying people of the event
If people are attending a funeral, they will not automatically expect there to be a post funeral reception, or at least one which they can attend. Who can attend tends to vary – some people only want close friends and family to attend, other people are happy for as many people as possible to attend, so it is important to communicate that to people. Let people know about the reception when you are telling them about the funeral so that they can plan accordingly. Make sure other family members who might be speaking to people also know to tell them about the reception. People need to know who can come, where it will be and when it will be.
If you are putting a notice in the local paper about the funeral, then remember to include details about the reception as well and also include details as a reminder at the end of the funeral order of service, if you are having one. Also, remember to provide directions if the venue is hard to find, is a long way from the funeral location, or if people do not know the area very well, and a postcode which they can put into their SatNav.
If there are people who are walking to the funeral and the venue is a considerable distance away, you might to think about transportation to make sure that everyone (particularly elderly friends and relatives) are able to attend.
Work with your funeral director
Discuss your thoughts and ideas for the post funeral reception with your family and also with your funeral director when organising the funeral. Funeral directors have a lot of experience of funeral receptions and of dealing with venues in the local area, so they will be able to provide you with tips, help, advice, suggestions, contacts and other information for organising a post funeral reception.