By Ellwood Shreve
Alcohol has become more common at funerals and a Chatham funeral home has responded to this trend by becoming one of a small number in Ontario to obtain a permanent liquor licence.
“People have been asking for this for a long time,” said Nathan McKinlay, managing funeral director at McKinlay Funeral Homes Ltd.
The liquor licence at the Chatham location has been in effect for about a month, which encompasses the visitation suites in the funeral home and its reception centre.
“It’s been pretty well-received,” McKinlay said, adding people “find it refreshing” there are options available to have alcohol served.
Rob Wintonyk, president of the Ontario Funeral Service Association (OFSA), which represents independently owned funeral homes, said McKinlay Funeral Homes is “wisely responding to the demand.”
He said, “a lot of traditional funeral homes, perhaps even in their culture in the generation itself, would not have seen a likelihood of serving alcohol in their funeral home.”
But, as times change and the traditionalists pass away, Wintonyk said it is the baby boomers who are driving this change.
He added in order for funeral homes to adapt and provide consumers what they’re looking for “this is just going to be part of our business as time goes on.”
Wintonyk, who operates a funeral home in Waterloo, said the business is in the process of applying for a liquor licence to meet the growing demand for funeral services and receptions that include alcohol.
He predicts in the coming years many more funeral homes will move away from the current practice to obtain special occasion permits to serve alcohol to having a permanent liquor licence.
However, that change hasn’t been happening at a rapid pace just yet.
Ray Kahnert, senior communications advisor with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), said as of the end of 2016, there only are two funeral homes in Ontario to obtain a liquor licence.
He noted in August 2011, the rules changed allow for non-primary use establishments to apply for liquor licences. Prior to that, the primary business of a premises had to be the sale and service of alcohol in order to receive a permanent liquor licence.
Considering there are more than 17,000 licensed establishments in Ontario, Kahnert said, “there has been a modest growth of non-primary use businesses that have opted to apply for a liquor licence, approximately 80 to 90 across the province.”
He noted these include such venues as art galleries, grocery stores, hair salons/barbershops, specialty food stores, spas and Internet cafes.
Kahnert said a non-primary use business seeking a liquor licence “goes through the same careful examination and diligence that any establishment would.”
He added establishment that holds a liquor licence is required to abide by the conditions of the Liquor Licence Act, which includes not serving anyone under 19 or serving anyone who is intoxicated.
Offering alcohol is becoming a way for funeral homes to capture reception business that would otherwise go to an existing licensed facility.
McKinlay said a lot of people pick a reception venue based on whether alcohol could be served and “we had to accommodate that need.”
The funeral home is seeing other opportunities by being able to provide both food and alcohol at its reception centre.
McKinlay said there’s been some interest expressed in having “wake-style” funerals and evenings of remembrance at the reception centre “where people just come in from 7-9 p.m. over cocktails and appetizers.”
He said many people know what they don’t want when it comes to a funeral service, “but a lot of people don’t necessarily know what they want, so this is giving options to those families that don’t want a traditional service.”