How to plan a wake

family sitting around a table and eating food at a wake, at the head of the table is a lady in her seventies smiling

Need to plan a 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 plan one that’s a fitting way to remember the person who’s passed away.

What is a funeral wake?

A wake is a get-together that happens after a funeral service. It means family and friends can gather to remember the person who passed away and celebrate their life. A wake can also be held before a funeral service. It’s sometimes called a funeral tea or a funeral reception.

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 wake or get-together after the service.

Why is a wake called a wake?

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 wake is more often associated with an informal get-together to remember a loved one who’s passed away.

What happens at a funeral wake?

It’s generally an event that brings family and friends together to remember a loved one. But a wake 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 fairly formal gathering where prayers are read while others prefer a casual gathering where people can chat and have something to eat and drink.

Is there always a wake after a funeral?

No. You don’t have to have a wake at all. There’s no requirement. If it’s something you know the person wanted or you’d like to bring their family and friends together it’s one way to say goodbye. But if it doesn’t feel suitable or the person who passed away didn’t want a lot of fuss you don’t have to organise a wake at all.

How long does a funeral 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.

Although 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.

How much will a funeral wake cost?

The most recent research (SunLife Report 2023) tells us that venue hire costs an average of £312 in the UK. Catering costs an average of £467. So hiring a venue and catering for the 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 keep the service simple so that you can spend more on the wake.

How to plan a 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 is a lot to take on. So we’ve put together some guidance below to help you with your plans. But remember 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 planning a wake.

1. Book a 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 your home. There are many options when it comes to funeral wake venues.

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

2. 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 beforehand with an invite, a quick phone call, or email. Writing all the details down in an email or on an invite 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 invites to make things as clear as possible. This could include:

Keep in mind that if you’d like the wake to be a smaller gathering or you’d like more people to attend the wake after the funeral service you’ll need to outline this on the invites. Or you could prepare separate invites for the service and the wake to avoid any confusion.

3. Organise food and drink

Not sure what to serve at a funeral 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 to guests if it’s too much to manage or it doesn’t fit your budget.

4. Think about funeral wake ideas

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 funeral wake ideas that you could put together so you can celebrate the life of your loved one:

Planning a wake is a very personal thing. So it’s up to you whether you add any of these funeral wake 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.