Should Funeral Homes Serve Food?

WILKES-BARRE — A battle is brewing over funerals and food in Pennsylvania and it could go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Last year, funeral directors sued state regulators to be able to serve food in funeral homes and won, but only for a short time.

Whether it’s sitting shiva, attending a wake, or any other tradition, food and funerals often go together. So some funeral directors say they should be able to serve refreshments if that’s what a family wants.

Now they are suing the state to change the rules.

At the H Merritt Hughes funeral home on North Main Street in Wilkes-Barre, mourners can have a sip of water or a mint, but that’s as far as it goes.

State regulations prohibit funeral homes in Pennsylvania from serving food.

The home’s owner says he would like to be able to offer grieving families at least a cup of coffee.

“Grief is a very, very difficult thing, and I would love to be able to do that, even sneak in a doughnut,” said H Merritt Hughes.

In 2012, a judge struck down the regulation, and for a while, food at funerals was allowed.

The Thomas P. and Kevin K. Kearny funeral homes in Lackawanna County served Cap’n Crunch at one man’s memorial and a favorite candy, Hot Tamales, at another’s.

Folks we met in Wilkes-Barre believe refreshments at a funeral sound reasonable.

Paola Mendez says at her service friends and family might need a drink.

“What sort of refreshments would you want at your funeral?”

“Margaritas,” Mendez replied.

Kenneth Prater is a Philadelphia native and says that city’s famous sandwich would make for a fine farewell.

“Philadelphia cheese steak, I love it.”

Hughes says while the food may be getting a lot of attention, it isn’t really the whole story. He says the rule is one of a number named in a lawsuit by a group of funeral directors who want the state to have less control.

While some funeral directors tell Newswatch 16 that the changes are needed to modernize the industry, Hughes believes the suit goes too far, eliminating regulations that protect consumers, like limiting who can sell funeral services.

“Some of the regulations make sense. Some are antiquated. They are nonsensical, but they’re there.”

We asked several funeral directors exactly why the original regulation against serving food was created, and none of them knew for certain.

It may have been about money, or sanitation concerns but they say times are changing, citing as an example the changing rules about smoking.

14 comments

  • Keith Hinkel

    Look stop this idiocy. A person dies the soul is gone. Why keep the body about. If one did not get to say goodbye when the person was alive well that happens; happened to me. But be happy for the person has left this horrible world for hopefully a better place and no pain. Just get it done–cremation costs $800.00 in Pa.

  • fedup

    Funny thing is.. when my mom died this funeral home and this man in the article were the most ignorant. Now in this article he is all nice but the day my mom was laying in this same exact room my entire famity was very close to having this man take a ride on his own gurney.

  • Dianne

    If you have a separate lunch room in the funeral home for people to go eat, that is one thing, but to eat in the actual viewing/funeral area is another. I own a small family owned and operated Funeral Home. I am not a restaurant, nor do I want to be. We try to keep our Funeral Home attractive. After installing new carpet, a person came in for a viewing and had a cup of coffee which was spilled on the floor. Nothing was said to us and we didn’t discover it until after the viewing. Needless to say, our new carpet wasn’t so new anymore. We found candy, chips and pretzels in the sofa cushions. Is this what people do in their own homes? We don’t allow food or drinks other than water in the viewing and funeral area. If the water spills it will dry. What about the regulations for food service facilities? The same should apply to any Funeral Home serving food. Suppose someone gets sick after eating at the Funeral Home, is the Funeral Home liable?

    • Linda

      This is why we allow the family and friends of the deceased to bring in their own food. It feeds a need, we don’t have to worry about ordering enough food and charging the family, and liabilities over food-borne illnesses are with those that brought the food in.

  • tom

    What’s the big deal with this.A family could decide if they want refreshments at a viewing.This is a ridiculous waste of discussion and a waste of time and tax money in court.I bet if a tax were put on it-lawmakers would say it’s ok to do.

  • crackers81

    WNEP should have dug deeper. I see at the end of the article they went on to say that funeral parlour operators did not really know the reason why there are regulations preventing them from offering food, or even a minimal snack to guests. So then why was the next step not contacting the regulators? Without actually understanding the motive behind the ban, how can anyone make an informed decision about the poll question or even form a reasonable opinion? Maybe there’s a very good reason it’s a banned service. Maybe it’s an antiquated law based on silly religious superstition like yesteryears’ blue laws. Who knows because WNEP didn’t follow through with the article.

    On the surface, this sounds like a wonderful idea. A treat is one of the few creature comforts that can ease a person through the misery of mourning a lost loved one as evidenced by the worldwide tradition of bringing the grieving party something to eat. Unless there’s a good, FACTUALLY DEFENSIBLE reason that this should not occur, then maybe the state needs to butt out of private concerns. It’s not like we don’t have more pressing matters for them to waste money on in this economically depressed, drug infested, crime addled commonwealth where the cops are as likely to taz you to death as the drug czars are to fire shots at your window.

  • Megan O

    On one hand, I think it’s nice that some funeral homes wish to offer refreshments to grieving guests. On the other hand/In my opinion, providing food is generally unnecessary and will only put additional burdens on both the guests and the home. The home would have to implement new sanitation standards and equipment for preparing and serving food. They would also have to consider cleaning up after guests. What if someone spills a beverage on the carpet? Who pays for that? Should guests have to worry about the possibility of a spilled drink? And what if someone becomes ill from eating the food, or has an allergic reaction, or chokes? By opting to serve food, I think the funeral home would be taking on a considerable responsibility that needs to be considered carefully.
    However, I don’t think there is any sanitation issue with having at least beverages available such as bottled drinks and/or hot beverages like tea and coffee, or allowing guests to bring their OWN food if they like.

    • crackers81

      You are about a grab bag of neurosis here, aren’t you? What if a meteor crashes through the roof while someone’s nibbling a donut and opens a hole to China and everyone falls through? Honestly, half of this stuff doesn’t regularly happen at actual restaurants. It’s not like the industry is saying funeral home operators MUST serve food, and guests MUST eat it. It’s a small service they wish to provide. Those who want, will partake. Those who don’t wont. End of story. This whole “slippery slope”, appeal to extreme circumstances argument you’ve laid out simply doesn’t hold water.

  • N.M.Lucas II

    It’s just another case of
    overweening greed.
    Here in NEPA, it’s the custom to go somewhere after the funeral. This is from the Eastern European superstition that it’s the height of bad luck to go directly home after a funeral.
    There are many places at the current time that cater the post-funeral meal. . . This is being presented as being sponsored by the smaller type undertakers. I’m afraid it’s really just another case of the “gimmes” by the largest of these establishments. It would serve to unfairly compete w/ the smaller funeral homes & force those that haven’t the proper facilities into receivership. . .

    • crackers81

      How would it be unfair? In what other industry does one not have to grow infrastructure if one wishes to provide more services? Are you claiming it’s unfair that Applebe’s can offer a full bar back when a smaller restaurant can’t because it doesn’t have the space? How is levying your profits into higher quality service unfair to anyone else?

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