Food Etiquette at a Funeral
Many people associate a funeral with food. It has long been the standard practice for guests to gather after the funeral to enjoy refreshments in the form of snacks, drinks, casseroles, and other food dishes. Not only is comfort food better in the company of others who are sharing your grief, but it provides an excuse for everyone to linger and make the most of the short time they have together.
However, the question of who is supposed to provide the food can be tricky. Traditionally, the family of the deceased is in charge of making all arrangements related to the funeral—up to and including visitations, viewings, burial ceremonies, and/or post-funeral gatherings. This way, they can decide when and where to share their grief. Feeling pressured to hold (or attend) a party can sometimes add to their overwhelming loss at this time.
Of course, the burden of planning, prepping, and paying for a post-funeral gathering can also be tough. If the family is already busy with the funeral, they may feel that providing all the food for a huge guest list is too much. In these instances, post-funeral gatherings become more of a potluck, with everyone contributing.
But how can you know if you are supposed to bring a dish to share? Is it okay to expect food at a funeral? And what is the etiquette for bringing guests when there is a limited spread?
Word of Mouth: In most cases, the family will let it be known if there will be food available after the funeral, as well as if they are asking for contributions. There won’t be any formal invitations, and you might not hear it directly from the person in charge, but in the age of texting and social media, it tends to be fairly easy to learn what the plans will be.
Obituary Notice: Some families will outline their plans in the obituary, which can make it easier for those who are not directly related to know what to expect. If a notice is in the obituary, it is almost guaranteed (unless it is stated otherwise) that the gathering is open to the public.
Funeral Home: If the funeral and the gathering afterward are going to be held at a funeral home, the employees will likely know what is going to be planned. If you are unsure if you should bring a dish, call ahead and ask. Even if they do not have an answer, they may have contact information for you to find out.
Church/Community Organizations: If the deceased and/or the family are part of a church or community group, it is likely that the organization will take over the task of planning and providing the food. You can reach out to them to find out what to expect.
Restaurant Gathering: Some families might not feel up to the task of entertaining, but that does not mean they are ready to end after the funeral. There may be a post-funeral gathering at a restaurant or bar. In most cases, you will be expected to cover your own costs for refreshments in this situation.
Managing Expectations: Although you might consider it traditional to be served food after a funeral, not everyone partakes of this ritual. If there is no meal being offered, take your leave politely and without further comment.
It is also important to remember that although funerals are social occasions, they are not intended to be elaborate celebrations in the same way that a wedding is. If you are uncomfortable attending alone, by all means bring a guest with you—but unless you have been invited to stay (or an open offer was made during the funeral), do not plan on forcing your way in.