As a disclaimer, we realize that food service does not apply to all states. Some states like New Jersey, prohibit the serving of food in a funeral home. But for those funeral home owners who do business in ‘open’ states, this is one of the more prominent conversations. And that conversation holds several questions… Do we have to serve food? Isn’t that more work for us? How much food should we allow? What if they take mama’s lasagna and spill it all over the lobby and then a rambunctious 5-year-old comes and stomps on it, splashing the walls and grinding the marinara sauce into the carpet?
For those owners who have not embraced food in their funeral homes (other than the cursory cookie), I have a couple of thoughts. We have a client that does about 500 calls a year – with one chapel. Their coffee lounge is on the small side. They serve coffee, tea, bottled water and allow 1 or 2 food trays. Their thought process is, “We want to do one thing (provide funerals/memorials) and do that one thing well.” With their limited space, it is important their families feel comfortable but not so comfortable that they stay for hours. I understand that – I also acknowledge that it’s not the norm for many funeral homes. For everyone else… let’s take a look on how to do this thing called food hospitality.
Owners tell us that they want their funeral home to be warm, hospitable, inviting, caring, etc… Some say that today’s culture is food driven but I would suggest that hospitality has always included some type of food. The following is courtesy of Ruth Breindel, president of the Rhode Island Jewish Historical Association. I like the way she puts it…
“The word “hospitality” is derived from the Latin word hospes, which means guest, host, stranger. In the ancient world, where inns were dangerous, people preferred to stay at someone’s house; you were a guest when you traveled and a host when travelers came to your area. This system included strangers – people not known to you personally, but through family, business or another relationship. From the Latin stem, we also get the words hotel, hosted, host, guest, hospital and hospice. There are many definitions of hospitality, but it all comes down to treating the other as if he or she were a friend, offering food, drink and a place to stay.”
Each funeral home owner will need to decide what level of hospitality you will want to offer. Much of that decision is based on competitive factors, the culture of your community and the accessibility of food venues in your community. If you’ve made the decision to embrace food in your facility – the trick is to have the right finishes and furnishings – those that are forgiving when mama’s lasagna is spilled. Finishes that will wipe up, mop up, clean up. No problem. Finishes and furnishings where you don’t have to hold your breath in the hopes that Aunt Martha won’t take her coffee out of the lounge. Because if that happens, guess who’s the bad guy for directing her back to the lounge?
A comfortable hospitality space (no matter the size) might include…
- TEXTURE Tables and chairs of varying height, interesting ceilings, hi and low interest on the walls. Texture keeps a space from feeling like a box. Texture makes things interesting.
- STORAGE You may decide you’d like to include under counter beverage refrigerators – or – a full size frig perfect to house a large tray from the local grocery.
- COUNTERS Quartz vs. Granite vs. Solid Surface vs. Laminate vs. Concrete vs. Wood, and so on. While I realize ‘granite’ has taken over HGTV, your funeral home is a commercial environment. Granite is porous and requires maintenance. It isn’t the best solution for a food surface in a public space. I’d go so far as to say, please don’t use granite. The alternative for that upscale look is quartz. With many colors and styles to choose from, quartz is non-porous alternative that requires no maintenance. It is inherently anti-microbial. Easy to clean and is quite durable.
- SERVICE LINES It’s important (if you have even a little space) to think through food service lines. The shorter the line, the more quickly a family member or guest will be able to serve themselves. By separating out lines for appetizers & salads or entrees separate from desserts and beverages, you’ll allow people quicker access to the food and drink.
- STAGING AND STORAGE If you have the ability to include a separate staging and storage area for local caterers – that’s an absolute plus.
- FURNISHINGS Your furnishings will depend on your brand. Tables should be good without a cloth. Easy to maintain and versatile. You may have the space for a couple pieces of soft seating (like a coffee shoppe) or hi and low tables. Fabrics for the chair backs is key whereas the seat may be wood or vinyl for easy cleaning. You don’t always have to do tables. Think also about bar height counters with stools and charging stations. You can fit more people at a counter than at a table. If however, your hospitality means “reception hall”, furnishings will be different. Round tables are conducive to conversation where square tables can be pushed together so that larger groups may sit at the same table. A combination of both is good. If you use round tables, they shouldn’t be any larger than a 6-chair, 54” table. Anything larger alienates a guest from the another guest sitting across the table. And remember that the magic seating number for a reception is 70 in the minds of your families. The actual average number is closer to 50 but they typically believe there will be more people in attendance than what will actually participate.
These are highlights and certainly not an in-depth look at food service in the funeral industry. Your particular situation may differ but our hope is that this helps in discussion.
As always, thanks for listening!
Tam Schreiner is owner & president of FFH design