A-tisket, A-tasket, a ….Wine Cask and a Casket?

A quick Google search for “Funeral Catering will lead you to links to funeral homes far and wide which are embracing new opportunities in this changing business. Many larger funeral homes offer full catering options done in-house, or have partnerships with local providers and restaurants who will step in and cater to an individual family’s wants and needs. Visitation rooms double as banquet halls, and options range from appetizers to buffets to formal seated dinners. The bottom line: it’s convenient.

Wouldn’t you like to arrive to a continental breakfast the morning before a funeral? Trust me, your funeral director would be glad to help with the arrangements.

Food at funerals is not a recent phenomenon, but “catering” in the proper sense is. Traditionally– at least in my neck of the woods known as “The South”– church groups and friends provide meals upon meals for grieving families at their home and typically offer a meal for the family at the church before or after the funeral service. While this is still a popular tradition in most Southern communities, in other parts of the country, times are a-changin.’ Part of the reason for this is that we are an increasingly mobile society. People often travel in for funerals, thus they don’t have a place other than a hotel to host friends or have a meal. I’ve even had out-of-town families ask me for directions to local restaurants as they leave a graveside.

Also, many folks don’t have close ties to a church anymore, and if they do, the church may not “do” meals in the way that most small Southern churches do. There aren’t as many devoted souls willing to handle the “chicken money” or whip up a fresh batch of biscuits or a hot dish of macaroni at the drop of a hat. In fact, many classic covered dishes have given way to quick and easy options such as deli trays and even– brace yourself– pizza.

…There may or may not have been a committee of little old church ladies who collectively rolled over in their graves just now…

Whatever kinds of food are set out on the table, whatever the venue, and whatever the relationship of the cooks and servers to the grieving family, one thing stays the same: food beckons time and space to gather. The table is a place to sit and eat, feeding the body while nourishing the soul. Stories are told over the clanging of forks and clinking of spoons, and memories are shared over slices of lemon pound cake. The reality, however, is that traditions shift, and it is easy to see that the funeral business is becoming more secularized in response to cultural changes. Sadly, the days of the funeral luncheon at the church may be numbered, but there remains a demand for creative yet simple alternatives for gathering and eating together.

I was not at all surprised to see that a funeral home in Florida recently added a wine cellar to their building. The proprietor markets it as a “different way to grieve,” and it is offered as an alternative gathering place for a visitation or celebration of life (with or without a casket present).

The wine cellar has garnered international attention, and honestly, it seems like a neat idea. Guests are treated to a glass of wine over casual conversation–almost an extension of the comfort of being in one’s own home with close friends. After all, isn’t that what people usually want when they’re hurting? I’m sure there are plenty of naysayers who frown upon such things (some who have a legitimate claim not to ‘drown one’s sorrows’), but I think it’s representative of changing times.

Options such as catering are partly a business decision on the funeral home end of things, a way of generating revenue while also offering a meaningful and convenient opportunity for clients. Catering is a natural extension of personalization for funerals, going so far as setting a different atmosphere, one that will not likely be forgotten by those who attend. One of the beautiful things about such personalization is that the possibilities are virtually limitless. Instead of wine, for example, it could be a grill night, or a dessert social, or even a bonfire with s’mores… It seems like any kind of creative flair sure would take the bother out of standing in a visitation line, don’t you think?

You can read more about the wine cellar here. What do you think? What kind of food could you enjoy at funerals?

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