25 Funeral Reception Ideas to Make It Memorable

Published September 4, 2020
Friends enjoying reminiscing at funeral reception

When you're planning a funeral, memorial or celebration of life, you will likely need to have a few funeral reception ideas that allow people to gather after the service and remember their loved one with one another. Think outside the box to come up with something special that personalizes the reception.

6 Funeral Reception Ideas for Unique Locations

While most people host the repast after the funeral at a church, home, or restaurant, there are plenty of other locations that may be suitable for a reception.

Sports Stadiums

When the deceased loved one spent most of her time watching, playing, coaching, or analyzing sports, you may find a stadium a fitting choice for the reception location. They may have sky boxes for rent or even have the entire stadium available. This is also a good option if you're expecting a large number of people (like when a beloved coach with 30 years of experience passes away). Most will have several catering options and provide both set-up and clean-up, making it less stressful on the family. Don't forget to check with minor league teams, too.

Yacht or Boat

Yacht or boat rentals may be a good option if you're near a lake, river, or the ocean. Look for ones with on-board catering and that have plenty of seating both indoors and out in case of strong winds or inclement weather.

Historic Mansions

Historic mansions and homes may have ballrooms or parlors that can be rented for a small group reception. This may be an elegant yet comfortable alternative to hosting at home if you don't have the right space for it. However, you may need to hire an outside caterer to bring food in.

funeral reception on historic mansion

Botanical Gardens

A botanical garden is a lovely alternative to a funeral reception at a park. It's especially fitting for someone who loved gardening, flowers, or the outdoors but passed away during the winter or non-growing season. Some gardens may have small delis or luncheonettes, but you'll need to check whether they are able to provide food for the reception.

Theater Ballrooms

A grand theater ballroom is another upscale option for a deceased loved one's reception. They are generally large and luxuriously decorated, and often have options for set-up, clean-up, and catering.

Barn at a Ranch or Farm

A fixed up barn at a ranch or farm provides a casual gathering space that anyone will feel comfortable in. A funeral reception at a barn means you'll need to hire outside caterers and likely will be responsible for all set-up and clean-up, but you may find the atmosphere perfect for remembering an outdoorsy loved one.

11 Funeral Activities for Receptions

Reminiscing about your deceased love one is the most common thing to do at a funeral reception. However, you can plan other ideas to personalize the reception for your loved one and their family and friends.

Set Up a Life Achievement Timeline

Receptions held in large venues or in a space with a long hallway can put the space to use. Instead of trying to pick and choose a few select photos to put on a display board, create a timeline of photos, achievements, and special moments that follows a chronological path. Make sure you indicate the starting and ending spots with a sign and have arrows to help guide guests to the next spot on the timeline.

Pick a Funeral Reception Theme

If your deceased loved one had something special that comes to mind when you think of her, incorporating a theme may work. At a more solemn funeral, keep things on the sophisticated side and focus on colors and small graphic touches. However, a celebration of life or casual memorial means a lighter touch may be appropriate. Just a few appropriate themes include:

  • Animals - Certain animals are associated with funerals and spiritual nature. Butterflies, cardinals, and doves can all be worked into centerpieces, programs, napkins, and even prayers and speeches.
  • Favorite color - It doesn't matter if the deceased loved lavender or lime; find a way to work the color into linens, flower arrangements, table service, and even foods served at the reception.
  • Music - Play appropriate background music in the deceased's favorite genre (look for instrumental versions if there are lyrics). Add picks featuring instruments to centerpieces and look for cocktail napkins featuring musical staffs in elegant silver, gold, or black.
  • Nature and outdoors - If the deceased individual enjoyed camping, hiking, fishing, and other outdoor pursuits, incorporating Mother Nature's elements into the funeral reception is easy. Pine cones and vinery look lovely strewn down tables, and tree trunk slices can serve as placemats. Be sure to set up a memory table with plaques, photos, and other souvenirs of time spent in outdoor activities.

Perform a Musical Number at the Funeral Reception

Talented musicians and vocalists can offer to play at the funeral reception. Often, the service has solemn classical or religious pieces, so the reception may be a good time for a secular, more trendy piece (that is still appropriate and approved by the family). In fact, if you write your own music, the reception is the perfect time to dedicate your latest number to the deceased and her family.

Set Up a Donation Drive

Many families request something in lieu of flowers from mourners who want to pay their respects. One idea is to request donations, perhaps for canned food or winter clothing for kids, be brought to the reception in honor of the deceased individual. Clearly label boxes and totes so everyone knows where to put their donation.

Pledge Acts of Kindness at the Reception

Set up a pledge station where loved ones commit to doing acts of kindness during the next year in memory of their deceased loved one. Make business- or postcard-sized cards with a little info on them, like "This act of kindness was done in memory of Love One who passed away on Date. Please pay it forward in his memory!" or something similar for people to take with them and given in the deceased's honor. Acts can be simple, creative ways to pay it forward or larger commitments. Consider:

  • Paying for a stranger's drink or meal
  • Leaving painted stones with positive messages around your community
  • Donating flowers to a nursing home facility
  • Baking emergency workers snacks
  • Raking leaves or mowing a neighbor's lawn

Go Sailing, Biking, or Hiking

Skip the traditional location and reception activities and do something the deceased individual loved to do. This could range from sailing to biking to hiking or even taking a painting or sculpture class at a local art studio!

Group of hikers posing

Request a Drive-By Parade

Loved ones who were part of a club or organization can be honored with a drive-by parade from members of those groups. For example, motorcycle riders may be part of a club who could ride their bikes past the reception location in the deceased individual's honor. A classic car club can do the same. Even a running club could have members do a memory loop in honor of the deceased, perhaps by their home and then to the reception or other locations nearby that were significant to the deceased individual.

Host a Fireworks Tribute

Plan an evening funeral reception and set off cremation fireworks in memory of your loved one. In fact, some people select burial by fireworks when making funeral plans. However, you can still choose to put on a fireworks display in your loved one's honor even if they are buried or their ashes are kept in an urn. Be sure to check with local government to ensure all laws are followed.

Skip the Funeral Reception and Volunteer Instead

If your loved one had a charity or cause that was near to her heart, arrange to volunteer after the service. Request people sign up and have some time between the service and volunteer event so that people can change clothes and arrive at the location. Consider serving meals or packing meal for homeless, working on a home, walking dogs, or visiting a nursing home for a guided activity.

Plan a Pet-Friendly Reception

Perhaps the deceased individual loved her dog more than anything or had a special cat that stayed by her side until the end. In this case, planning a pet-friendly reception to honor this love is entirely appropriate. Look for an outdoor venue, dog park, kennel or training facility that allows groups to gather. Send guidelines and waiver information with the reception invitation or include them with the reception notice. Make sure you have treats and water for all animals attending, as well as human food for the people who come.

Organize an Anniversary Event for Next Year

Anniversaries of a loved one's death are difficult for family members and friends. Instead of leaving everyone on their own, use the reception to begin making plans to mark the anniversary as a group. Request ideas for locations, tributes, and activities, plus a list of email and home addresses so those who want to participate will receive all of the information.

3 Funeral Reception Food and Drink Ideas

Hosts should provide food and drink to mourners who gather after the funeral.

Hire Your Loved One's Favorite Food Truck

The food truck industry is booming, and if you know your deceased loved one had a favorite, hire them for the funeral reception. Pick out your loved one's favorite dish and sides. Provide drinks and desserts as well.

funeral reception with food truck

Plan a Favorite Foods Buffet

If you're planning a funeral reception at home, set up a favorite foods buffet. The favorite foods may tie into a small theme, or they may simply be a collection of dishes the deceased individual enjoyed. If you don't have a long table for the buffet, organize the food in one room or area with smaller tables set up for appetizers, main dish and sides, desserts, and drinks.

Serve Personalized Cocktails or Mocktails

Mix up a cocktail or mocktail in honor of the deceased loved one. Utilize your loved one's favorite flavor or liquor and create a name in honor of them. You can even hand out small bottles of it with a label as a keepsake to be drunk on their anniversary in their honor.

5 Funeral Reception Ideas for Memorial Keepsakes

While giving memorial keepsakes isn't done at every funeral reception, some families want to have small remembrances available for those who want them.

Hand Out Memorial Bracelets

Colorful rubber bracelets can be personalized with the deceased's name or initials, date of birth and death, and/or a quote in their memory. Place them near the door or food tables in a large bowl. Don't forget to include a small sign letting people know they can take one home.

Personalize Memorial Candles

Set up a candle station for making a memory candle in honor of the deceased. Provide pillar candles, wallet-sized photos, embellishments, and some in loving memory quotes in honor of the loved one. Include a few laminated sets of instructions for people to follow. Display a few examples so those attending can put together their own version to light at home in honor of their loved one.

Create a Remembrance Photo Book

Create a photo memory book of the deceased individual for the surviving family members. In the obituary and funeral notice, ask people to bring a copy of their favorite photo of the deceased. Have a table set up with a large scrapbook, placards, multi-colored pens, and photo tape so friends and family can create a page featuring their photo memory of the deceased.

remembrance photo book

Design a Memorial Shirt Together

Family and friends who lose someone young or unexpectedly may find comfort in creating a shirt that memorializes their deceased loved one. It might feature a short verse, poem, or quote and have a graphic that reflects the deceased individual's personality. The immediate family may want to create a few designs and then have people at the funeral reception select their favorite for ordering. If the reception is small, you may be able to create the entire design as a group.

Gather Ideas for a Public Memorial

Families may receive money donated for a memorial in their loved one's name. They may have a lot of ideas for what to do with the money, but not know how to narrow it down and make the best use of it. In this case, it may be helpful to have mourners come up with an idea or write their ideas down and put them in a box for the family to consider at a later time.

Hosting a Meaningful Funeral Reception

Planning a stress-free funeral reception doesn't mean you have to stick with the standard, solemn food and conversation. Instead, personalize it to suit the deceased loved one's interests and you are sure to host a meaningful, memorable reception.

25 Funeral Reception Ideas to Make It Memorable