Whether mourners return to the house of the bereaved or hold a reception for family and friends at a house of worship, a funeral luncheon can provide comfort and caring to those who have lost a loved one. Doing this well requires a little forethought, which will be greatly appreciated by those who attend. Review the considerations below if you are new to planning for such an occasion.
Preparing a funeral luncheon
Make your plans on the basis of doing everything: table-setting, utensils, food, beverages and cleanup. Contact friends who can help you, so that the bereaved are completely free to attend to family members, guests and their own needs.
Offer your help and be sensitive to any particular wishes. For example, Grandpa always loved ham, nobody drinks wine, just sandwiches, we may not have enough glasses or chairs, there will be lots of children. Some families, even in bereavement, have very clear ideas about how a luncheon should go. Others will respond simply with thanks. If a sister-in-law wants to make her special lasagna, factor it in. If no one has ideas, plan on your own.
Keep your menu simple and flexible. If you plan a casserole and salad, you may also want some sandwich makings for young family members to hold in reserve. Food should be easy to assemble on a single plate and manageable with only a fork or fingers. The house may be too crowded for all guests to sit, and cutting anything on your lap is an unnecessary irritation. Things that can be added to stretch a menu help: a cheese tray, cold cuts, rolls, a fruit tray. Appetites will be unpredictable. High or unusual seasonings are best left for another occasion. Small portions of anything tend to appeal more than large ones.
Get advice from someone who shares the family traditions if you are not familiar with them. In some traditions, hard-boiled eggs are always assumed as part of the menu. Whiskey may be a traditional accompaniment to a funeral luncheon -- or definitely not. Ordering dessert from a family favorite bakery may make a more comforting end to the meal than less familiar baking.
Make certain that complete cleanup is part of your effort. Bring containers to store remaining food, trash bags and paper towels, a carrier to take home table linens for laundering. For the moment, this is your kitchen, and part of planning the luncheon is planning its end.
Remember that the gift you are really giving to the family is lightening the load of heavy emotions and upsetting tasks at a time of sadness. This, as experienced caterers will tell you, is a time where the food runs last. People definitely need something to eat, but what they need more is the security and comfort that comes from knowing that someone has taken on the responsibility of all the details. Whether they notice your chicken divan is beside the point. What they will notice is the love, care and comfort you have provided in a difficult and painful time.