Betty Roberts’ mother, Mary Elizabeth “Betsy” Loveland, always said she wanted her family and friends to celebrate her life when she died, not mourn it.
On Nov. 9, the long-time nurse passed away, and her children found the perfect, if surprising, way to honor Loveland’s wishes while going over arrangements for her funeral services.
The day before Loveland’s funeral, her loved ones gathered at Scott Funeral Home in Jeffersonville, laughing and telling stories about Loveland’s volunteer work and her trips to far-flung countries.
In their hands, they held beer and wine — drinks provided by the funeral home.
“It was wonderful,” Roberts said. “And I think that if my mom had gone to a funeral and had saw that, she’d tell us that that’s what she wanted at her funeral.”
Scott Funeral Home, ran by brothers Aaron and Billy Scott, obtained its liquor license in March. The certification gives the business the ability to independently offer beer, wine and liquor to their customers.
So far, families have used it for everything from simple toasts at the end of ceremonies to full-on bars at separate memorial services, like the one Roberts chose.
The Scott brothers started the process of applying for their liquor license about five months before they actually received it. Families were coming into the funeral home and asking for the service. While the Scotts could provide catering on their own, they weren’t able to serve drinks. When they admitted to the families that they couldn’t provide what they wanted, their customers would turn to other event venues.
Since getting their license, funeral home has held around one service a month that’s featured alcohol in some way.
Alcohol at funerals is part of a larger trend in the industry, Aaron Scott said. Families are moving more toward cremation, which means they want more memorial services. Food and drink at those services usually follows.
“They want something that’s going to fit their family better and better serve them,” he said. “And sometimes a traditional funeral just isn’t the way.”
Aaron first saw the idea in practice at Buchanan Group funeral homes in Indianapolis. The 129-year-old business obtained its liquor license seven or eight years ago, well before many other funeral homes in the country, said Maureen Lindley, the vice president of marketing at Buchanan Group.
Many families don’t want to host the same funeral services that their grandparents did, she said. They’re different than their forefathers — more geographically spread out.
“A lot of families, they just don’t get together outside weddings and funerals,” Lindley said. “So while it’s a sad time, it’s also a time when families do come together.”
The National Funeral Directors Association told NBC News in March that it was also observing more of its members offering both beverages and food.
Scott Funeral Home isn’t even the only one in Clark and Floyd counties to offer alcoholic drinks at its services.
Kraft Funeral Services in New Albany started offering adult beverages and food to its families as far back as five years ago, said Drew Kraft, the funeral home’s manager. Recently, the number of people taking advantage of the service has increased “five or ten fold.”
“There’s always been food as part of visitations and funerals in the area,” he said. “But it’s becoming more prominent to have kind of catered events or parties that are part of the service now.”
But Kraft does it differently than the Scotts. The New Albany funeral home goes through a caterer that has a liquor license. Scott Funeral Home has its own.
That makes things more convenient for the business, Aaron Scott said. They’ve experience going through a caterer to provide alcoholic beverages once before, but the service was expensive, and they wouldn’t have been able to arrange it without time for the caterer to prep.
With their license, the Scotts have cut out the middle man, and they always have alcohol on hand, so they can provide it as soon as a family needs it.
The service costs a $250 setup fee to cover the bar, the bartender, the cost of the license and liability insurance that the funeral home now has to pay. After that, the families can pay however much they want for the cost of the alcohol. Most start out at $500, Aaron Scott said.
Kraft said that while his family’s funeral home doesn’t have a liquor license currently, it’s something they would consider — especially as he sees competing funeral homes in the area responding to the increased demand for catering.
Scott Funeral Home has started responding to the changes in the funeral industry in other ways, as well. Recently, they opened a new event room within their funeral home, which used to be where they displayed caskets. Now, it’s completely renovated and aesthetically divergent from the rest of the funeral home. Instead of plain, beige walls and pews, it contains mini chandeliers and a modern gray and white color scheme.
The Scotts were going for a hotel lobby-like atmosphere, Aaron Scott said — a neutral space that could be used for anything. And so far, it seems to have worked. Recently, a family booked the space for a baby shower: the first that the funeral home has ever hosted.
“It’s a little odd for me to think about,” he said, “But if my wife and I were having a baby shower, we’d probably do it here, too.”
Funeral homes aren’t exactly known for their innovation, Aaron Scott admits.
“Funeral homes don’t like to change,” he said. “They don’t like to change ownership, they don’t like to change employees. They do everything they can to stay exactly the same because it’s worked for so long.”
But change brings growth, and since taking over from their father around six years ago, the Scott brothers have seen their business take on more and more.
“It’s been really good for us,” Aaron Scott said. And for the families.
After seeing what the Scotts did for her mother, Betty Roberts is now interested in having her life celebrated in the same way — with family, laughter and drinks.