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Need to plan a funeral wake and not sure where to start? If you’re arranging a funeral you may not have thought about a wake in much detail yet. Don’t worry. We’ve provided info below on what a wake is, what it can include and how to organise one that’s a fitting way to remember the person who’s passed away.   

What is a funeral wake? 

A wake is an informal event where family and friends can get together in honour of a loved one that’s passed away. Traditionally, a wake happened before the funeral service but now it’s more often associated with a gathering after the funeral. It’s sometimes known as a funeral reception or a funeral tea.  

What happens at a wake?

Funeral wakes are generally intended as an event that brings family and friends together to remember a loved one. But it can be whatever you’d like it to be. Whether that’s religious or non-religious, formal or informal. Some people may prefer to have a formal gathering after the funeral where prayers are read, while others prefer a casual get-together where people can chat and have something to eat and drink. Some people might also decide to ask family and friends to be involved in an activity to honour the person who’s passed away, such as planting a tree in memory of them. Others might prefer to share stories or to ask family and friends attending the wake to write down favourite memories they have of their loved one.   

How much does a wake cost in the UK? 

The most recent research (SunLife 2024) tells us that venue hire costs an average of £347 in the UK. Catering costs an average of £476. So hiring a venue and catering for a funeral wake could cost you hundreds while a small get-together at home could cost you nothing at all. It’s really up to you where you spend your budget.   
If funeral costs were more than you expected, keeping the wake small and personal may be the best option. Alternatively, you could opt for a simple funeral service so that you can spend more on the wake.   

Is the wake included in funeral costs?   

Funeral directors don’t usually include wakes in their funeral planning services. This means that funeral wake costs are not usually included in their pricing lists so you’ll probably need to pay extra to hire a venue or for catering, for example. But don’t be afraid to ask your chosen funeral directors for help with planning the wake. Most will have the local info you need to find a venue and catering, if you need it. They’ll have many contacts who’ll be able to give you a quote for local venue hire for a couple of hours. This will give you a rough idea of whether venue hire and catering fits your budget.  

How to organise a funeral wake step by step 

Having a wake to remember someone who’s passed away can be a comforting experience. But planning one alongside the funeral can feel like a lot to take on. So we’ve put together some guidance below to help you with your plans. But remember funeral wakes can be flexible. They can be as simple or as big as you’d like. Try to keep that in mind when you’re organising a wake.   

Book a funeral wake venue 

How many people are you inviting? Is it going to be a small private gathering? Or are you inviting all friends and family to come to the wake after the funeral?   
The number of guests will help you decide on a venue. If you’re expecting a lot of people to attend you may want to hire a venue. But if a small gathering is more appropriate perhaps you could host it at home.  

Here’s a list of possible venues for funeral wakes to help you narrow down your options:   

  •  Hotel   
  •  Pub   
  •  Restaurant   
  •  Village hall   
  •  Community centre   
  •  Place of worship   
  •  At home/in your garden   
  •  A favourite place of the person who passed away   


Invite guests 

Think about who you’d like to attend the wake. Some people will invite all guests who attend the funeral service to come to the wake afterwards. But you don’t have to. You could make the wake more private or for family only if that’s what you’d like.   
To make things as clear as possible for all guests, make sure you tell them the details of the wake beforehand with an invite, a quick phone call, or email. Writing all the details down in an email or on an invitation will help guests know what to expect. It’ll also make things a bit more manageable for you.   
Consider what you’ll need to add to funeral wake invitations to make things as clear as possible.    
This could include:   

  • Date and time: include details of when guests should arrive and when things will wind down. If the venue you’re using needs you to leave at a certain time say this on the invitation.   
  • Venue: include directions if necessary.   
  • Dress code: all black? Casual or formal? Did the person who passed away have any thoughts on this?   
  • Whether food and drink will be offered: whether it’s a small homemade buffet or professional catering, try to give a quick description of what people can expect.   
  • Whether guests should bring/send cards or flowers: if the person who passed away wanted donations to be made to a charity instead give details of this on the invite. If possible, add a link to the charity’s website or where people can donate online.   

Whether you’d like everyone to attend the wake after the funeral service or you want it to be a smaller gathering - you’ll need to outline this on the invitations. Or you could prepare separate invitations for the service and the wake to avoid any confusion.   

Organise food and drink 

Not sure what to serve at the wake? To make things easier you could hire a professional caterer or you could keep things simple with homemade sandwiches. You could ask family and friends to bring a dish with them to keep costs down. Or just offer tea and coffee.   
Remember you don’t have to serve food and drink at the wake if it’s too much to manage or it doesn’t fit your budget.   

Think of ways to personalise the wake 

When you’re planning a wake you may want to organise something to help guests remember the person who passed away in a certain way.   
Here are a few ideas that you could put together so you can celebrate the life of your loved one:   

  • Display photos of the person with their family and friends   
  • Plant a tree in their memory   
  • Ask guests to write down their favourite memory of the person in an empty notebook   
  • Make a photo montage that can be played at the venue   
  • Play the person’s favourite music in the background   
  • Or simply sit down and have a chat about them   

Organising a funeral wake is a very personal thing. So it’s up to you whether you add any of these ideas to your plans. If you’d like to do something but you’re not sure where to start ask other family members for ideas too. They may be able to help you come up with something that’s suitable and helps you celebrate your loved one’s life.   

Szczepan Main Image
“We had a wake at the York racecourses"

"We were given the restaurant at the end of the racecourse. One of my colleagues who works in IT helped me put up a presentation on a screen with all of our pictures. Family holidays, trips, Paul’s pictures."

Funeral wake etiquette 

If you haven’t gone to a funeral wake before it may help to know what to expect. Here are a few things to consider if you’re attending a wake:   

Should you attend both the funeral and the wake? 

If you’re invited to both the funeral and the wake then it’s respectful to attend both. But you don’t have to – especially if you’re struggling to cope with the loss. If you think attending the wake will be overwhelming or if you have another important commitment you need to attend then just let the family know. Try to let them know in advance if you can. A quick phone call or message will do.   

What do you bring to a funeral wake? 

You could bring a card to give to the family. But you don’t have to. Unless the family has asked you to bring something – perhaps some food for the buffet – then don’t worry too much. You being there will be enough and will mean a lot to the close family of the person who’s passed away.   

What to wear to a wake 

If you attended the funeral beforehand then whatever you wore for the service will be fine. Usually the wake is somewhere nearby so you wouldn’t be expected to change. If you’re unsure of how to dress see our guide on what to wear to the funeral. This will help you find something suitable.   

What to say at a funeral wake 

If you’d like to say something to the close family members of the person who died it can feel intimidating. But whether you say “I’m sorry for your loss” or tell them about a favourite memory you shared with the person who’s passed away in detail, they’ll understand and appreciate the effort you made. Offering condolences isn’t easy. Simply attending the funeral wake and paying your respects is enough if you’re finding the loss difficult.


Do you have more questions about organising a funeral wake? The answers below could help.

Do you have to have a wake after a funeral?

No. You don’t have to have a wake after the funeral. You could choose to have one in the weeks or months after the funeral. This can be helpful when family members or friends were unable to attend the funeral but still want to say their goodbyes. If you don’t want a funeral wake at all, you don’t have to. There’s no requirement, especially if it doesn’t feel suitable or the person who passed away didn’t want a lot of fuss.  

How long does a wake last?

How long the wake lasts will depend on where it takes place and what you’d like to do. This may depend on whether you hire a venue or not. For example, a venue may only give you a two-hour slot. But if you held an informal wake at your home it could last for as long as you like.   
If you decide to organise a wake at your home, you might want to give guests an idea of what time they should arrive and when it will finish. This will give you the breathing space you need to set up and food and drinks and also help you relax once people start to leave.   

What’s the difference between a wake and a viewing?

A viewing is different from a wake. It’s when friends and family can visit the person who died. This is sometimes in an open casket. Or if they’ve been cremated, in an urn surrounded by photos and memories. It’s a personal choice as to whether you want to have a viewing or visitation. Depending on your preferences and beliefs a viewing of the person before the funeral service may be suitable as well as a funeral wake or get-together after the service.  

What's the difference between a funeral and a wake?

A funeral is a more formal service that can be led by a religious or non-religious officiant. A funeral also tends to follow a specific order of service. But a wake tends to be less formal. Its aim is to bring family and friends together to honour their loved one in a way that suits them.   

Why is a wake called a wake?

Where did the term wake for a funeral come from? Traditionally a wake refers to Irish Catholic vigils. This is when people used to stay awake and say prayers for a loved one who had passed away. These vigils were often held in the family home. This type of religious vigil can still take place if that’s what you’d like for your loved one. But nowadays a funeral wake is more often associated with an informal get-together to remember a loved one who’s passed away. 

For more inspiration when planning a wake, read our guide on funeral wake ideas  – it’ll give you some specific suggestions about food, decorations and venue choice.

Photo by Askar Abayev on Pexels.