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What to Expect at a Funeral Reception?

It is customary (but not required) to hold a reception following a funeral or memorial service. 

This gathering offers friends and family the opportunity to meet in an informal environment. 

The after-funeral reception gives mourners the chance to support each other, share stories and memories, and continue to celebrate the life of someone they cared about.

We sometimes hear the after-funeral reception is referred to as a "repast." Historically, the repast was a meal shared by close friends and family after the funeral. 

In modern times, the nature of the repast has evolved to include larger gatherings. For some, a close intimate meal is still the order of the day. 

For others, the repast will be a more significant, more festive event that may even include a Celebration of Life Program. Today we find the terms repast and funeral reception to be synonymous.

With the trend toward funerals becoming more unique, we find the same for the post-funeral reception. 

Events range from casual potlucks at a family home to full sit down meals at a restaurant or banquet hall.

Either of these is perfectly fine since there are no hard and fast rules for the after-funeral reception. The reception can be as straightforward or as elaborate as you like.

Regardless of the type of funeral reception, the event will take some planning. Just remember to keep the purpose in mind and consider your own needs. 

Also, consider what the person whose life you are celebrating would have wanted. Here at Peter Tziotzis Orthodox Funerals, we provide religious and traditional funeral services.

Remember, your goal is to give those who cared about the deceased a chance to remember and share. You are not expected to host an extravaganza unless that is what you want to do.

Reasons to Have a Post-Funeral Reception

A reception or gathering after a funeral is an excellent opportunity for people to spend time together and remember the deceased person. 

Funerals often bring people together who may not have seen each other in some time, and reception also provides an opportunity for people to reconnect.

As many funerals are formal and sad events, a reception also offers a more casual, relaxed space for people to celebrate the life of the person who died.

After Funeral Reception Planning Do's and Don'ts

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Do ask for help.

Do choose a location that works for you or is unique to the deceased.

Do feel free to keep it simple if that's what you want.

Do make the reception personal by using photos and memorabilia.

Do remember there are no hard and fast rules. You can arrange the reception on your terms.

Don't feel obligated to create a full course meal.

Don't turn down help.

Don't forget non-traditional locations when looking for a venue.

Don't feel obligated to serve alcohol.

Don't forget to personalise the event.

Before you start to plan, slow down and take a deep breath. If you tackle the following questions, you'll be able to make quick progress.

Where to Host a Repast

The location of the post-funeral reception should be based on the number of people and the accessibility of venues in the area. 

Some people prefer to host it at a family member's home, while others may choose to go to a restaurant, fellowship centre at the church, or public hall.

A reception can be held at a family member or friend's home, at a restaurant, an event space, or a social hall in a religious place of worship. 

Some funeral homes also have spaces where reception can be held.

There is also nothing wrong with having the gathering at a park, weather permitting. This is an option that many people choose if they have young children.

If you want to host a repast but don't know where to have it, talk to the funeral director. This is a person who is trained to assist with all aspects of the funeral.

People Visiting & Socializing

Generally speaking, right when you walk in, you can expect everyone who is already there to be standing around or sitting at tables, simply visiting with one another.


If everyone who attends the funeral is invited to the gathering, it is acceptable to announce the service. 

Be prepared to provide an address and directions for those who don't use a smartphone navigation app.

For a smaller post-funeral reception, discreetly hand out invitations or notices of the location and time of the repast. 

You may also have a larger get-together for everyone and a minor event at a different time for family and close friends.

Less Solemn Atmosphere

The air of solemnity that was so heavy at the funeral will most likely be somewhat dissipated by now. 

People are beginning to talk, tell stories and jokes, get reacquainted with old friends and family members, and enjoy food and drinks.

There may be a group of people standing close and offering comfort to the deceased's next kin and other family members.

No Casket

The decedent's casket won't be there. Following the funeral service, the body is typically buried or transferred to the cremation facility.

If cremation already occurred before the funeral, the cremation urn may be in the reception area, perhaps on a decorated memorial table.

Providing Food And Beverages

It is common for at-home receptions to be potluck-style, with friends and guests bringing prepared food and drinks. 

Alternatively, you can order deli platters from delis or supermarkets, a restaurant can deliver food, or a catering company can handle all the arrangements.

In some religious communities, it is traditional for the social committee to provide food and drinks for the reception.

If you have the reception at the funeral home, they may have restaurants or catering companies that they prefer to work with, though you may be able to bring in whatever foods you like.

Religious Considerations

If you follow any religious traditions, be aware that some religions have special foods that are eaten or prohibited after a funeral. 

(For example, Mormons traditionally eat potato casserole, and Jews traditionally eat eggs and abstain from alcohol.) 

In addition, many religions have specific mourning periods that begin immediately after the funeral. 

When to Host a Repast

The post-funeral reception can be immediately after the service, later in the day, or up to a few days afterwards. 

It's best to do it as soon as possible after the funeral service, so those who travelled from a distance will still be in town to attend.

Special Touches

Decorations and entertainment aren't necessary for a post-funeral reception. However, you may want to add some special touches to the repast, such as decorations that will commemorate the deceased. Here are some things to consider:

  • Display table with photos from different times of the person's life
  • Presentation of some favourite items of the dead, such as trophies, souvenirs from travels, and hobby-related items
  • Flowers and plants that were sent to the family or funeral home
  • Music that will comfort those in mourning
  • Favourite foods or drinks that people may have enjoyed with the deceased

Additional Considerations for Guests

It's important to remember what you are there for. 

Unless the deceased requested a boisterous celebration, it's best to keep the noise down and save the jokes later. 

You don't have to be glum, but you should always remain respectful of those who have just lost a loved one.

When it's time for refreshments, don't act like you haven't eaten in days. Get small servings and resist the urge to inhale your food.

Don't hang around for too long. When you see other people leaving or if the host starts to get fidgety, it's time to go. 

Before you leave the reception, thank the host and pay your respects to the family members one more time. Let Peter Tziotzis Orthodox Funerals help you select the type of funeral service that best fits your needs and your budget.

Who Be Will in Charge of Organising the Funeral Reception?

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If you feel up to the task of planning the reception, then go for it! Depending on your situation, you may find it a welcome distraction. 

If it starts to become too much, slow down and come up with another solution. 

Unless you are preplanning, you won't have a lot of time to make the arrangements. Keep this in mind when deciding whether or not to do it yourself.

If you would prefer to have someone else take care of the details, there are several places you can turn. 

A reliable friend or family member may be the perfect solution. If you have the funeral or memorial service at a church or funeral home, these venues may have a professional assigned for just this purpose. 

Churches often have volunteer groups that are eager to help. Consider engaging a professional celebrant or party planner who specialises in making funeral arrangements.

Where and When Will the Reception Be Held?

The most common locations for the funeral reception are at the home of a friend or relative, a church banquet hall, or the parlour of a funeral home. 

Many people also opt to use a local restaurant. When thinking about the venue, you will need to consider how many people might attend. Don't forget about local parks or other open-air areas that may be appropriate.

How Will You Personalise the Event?

As we have mentioned, the purpose of the funeral reception is to give those attending a chance to share memories and further reflect on the deceased's life. 

You can help foster interaction and make the reception more personal by including touches that bring to mind your loved one. 

There are many famous and easy ways to do this. 

Creating a photo wall or memory table are two of the most common. If the deceased was a collector, displaying some unique items from his or her collection is also a good alternative. 

Other ways you can personalise the funeral reception include:

  • Serving food that was a favourite of the deceased.
  • Playing background music that had significance to your loved one.
  • Arranging a group activity such as a candle lighting ceremony.
  • Offering an open microphone so that guests can share a story or memory.
  • Creating a tribute video to display during the reception.
  • Providing a keepsake for visitors to take with them.

These are just a few of the ways you can make the funeral reception unique. You can find many more inspiring ideas on popular social media such as Pinterest.

Should You Decorate the Venue?

Whether or not you decorate the venue will depend on where the reception is held, the amount of time you have, and your access to resources. 

Many people find that using flowers sent to the home will brighten up even the darkest room. 

Decorations can also help add personalisation. For example, if your loved one appreciated being outdoors, bouquets of wildflowers may add the perfect touch. 

Placing photos on tables along with candles can create warmth.

While you may want to dress the room to create an atmosphere, it is unnecessary to plan as if you were holding a wedding. 

Remember, you may be grieving too. If you keep your loved one in mind and do the best you can, the room will be just fine. 

The guests are there to honour your loved one and share each other's company, not judging your decorating skills.

Common Funeral Reception Events

Besides those above, and depending on the funeral reception's location, the following events may also occur at some point:

  • Sharing. Attendees may be invited to share any warm memories they have of the deceased. Don't worry; you don't have to speak in front of everyone if you don't want to.
  • Photos. A photographer may take family photos. If you're part of the immediate family, you'll probably need to be in the pictures. Otherwise, you can decline any invitations to be photographed.
  • Special Mini-Events. Many receptions have a slideshow playing on a screen; occasionally, they will dim the lights and conversation pauses to watch the slides or video. A family member or officiant may say a few words. There may be an activity such as filling out "My special memory of you" cards. If the reception is being held at an outdoor venue, a dove, butterfly, or balloon release may be scheduled.
  • Prayers. A minister or family member may say a blessing or a brief time for prayer and reflection. If you are not of the same faith tradition, you won't be required to participate. However, it is always respectful to stop talking, pay attention, and perhaps bow your head when prayers occur.

What Should I Say?

Now that we've gone over what you can expect, we can focus on your funeral reception etiquette.

Soon after you arrive at the venue, it's a good idea to offer your condolences to the deceased's family. 

This is especially important if you didn't get a chance to at the funeral or visitation.

Along the way or afterwards, you can also make conversation with anyone else you happen to know who's also there. 

If you see someone you don't know (and you're a social butterfly), it's perfectly appropriate to introduce yourself and ask them how they knew the deceased or the family.

If you're not a natural social butterfly, don't worry if speaking with others feels awkward at first. 

Everyone feels a little strange at funeral events, including the ones who are in mourning.

It's natural to worry over what to say to those who are grieving. Just make sure that you are sincere and your words come from a sympathetic place. In other words, be authentic.

If you need help figuring out exactly what to say at the reception, here are some ideas:

  • "I'm so very sorry for your loss." (A hug may be appropriate here.)
  • "Is there anything I can do for you today or in the coming days?"
  • "I can't imagine what you're going through right now, but I'm here for you."
  • "If you need anything at all, I'm just a phone call away."

Keep in mind that there are no words that you could say to ease the pain in some instances. 

Sometimes a long hug and cry together are what someone who's grieving needs. Read more tips on what to say to someone who is grieving here.

What Should I Avoid Saying?

On the other hand, there are just a few things that you'll want to avoid saying to the family at the reception:

  • "I know exactly how you feel." This sentiment may come from a good place, but not everyone will understand or appreciate it. No one but the bereaved knows precisely how they are feeling.
  • "He/she is in a better place now." Again, this may seem like a common thing to say at a funeral or reception. But it only serves to remind the bereaved that their loved one is no longer with them, so you should avoid saying it.
  • "You're managing everything so well, and I don't know how you're doing it." While they may appear strong on the surface, the person you are talking to may just be trying to keep it all together until they're alone and can truly begin to grieve.

What Should I Do?

We've hopefully already answered this question with the information above, but let's break it all down for you here:

  • Be present. Simply showing up to the funeral reception shows respect for the deceased and their family.
  • Offer your condolences. Let the family know that you're sorry for their loss and that you're here for them if they need anything at all.
  • Introduce yourself to those you don't know, and share with your memories of the deceased.
  • Remember what to say and what not to say.
  • Be yourself. Does it go against your nature to make small talk with everyone in the room or to display great emotion when talking with anyone? You certainly do not have to. Do you like to make people smile? By all means, be friendly and even tell jokes – but keep with the spirit of the occasion and don't go overboard.

Visit Peter Tziotzis Orthodox Funerals to know more about our prepaid funeral service and find the best funeral option for your unique situation.

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