Organising a funeral wake in the UK

Organising a funeral wake in the UK

by Jon Crawford2023-06-300

What is a wake?

A wake in the UK is most simply defined as the social gathering of friends and family that follows the formal funeral service. It is a time for people to come together to mourn the loss of their loved one, but also to celebrate their life in a more informal setting than the funeral itself. 

Originally rooted in various cultural and religious traditions, the increasing popularity of bespoke funerals in the UK means that the wake takes many forms and can be tailored to be as unique as the life it is honouring.

The benefits of having a wake:

  • Help people to start the grieving process.
  • Provide a sense of closure for family and friends.
  • Honour the deceased's memory.
  • Celebrate the deceased's life.
  • Bring family and friends together again.

Origins and history of the funeral wake in the UK

The funeral wake has taken many forms throughout history, with pagan, religious and cultural influences all contributing to its evolution. In some ancient cultures, wakes were seen as a way to help the deceased transition to the afterlife or for the living to say goodbye to their loved ones and begin the grieving process.

In the past, the wake actually used to take place before the funeral and burial. The origins of the wake in the UK are interwoven with Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Christian traditions. A wake used to be the term for a late night prayer vigil in which the family of the deceased sat watch over the body. It is surmised that this practice began in Anglo-Saxon times, most likely to keep evil spirits at bay. The day following the wake or night watch was often one of carnival and celebration.

The tradition seems to have been absorbed into Christian culture along the way and then into wider society across what is now the UK, with the social or celebratory aspect rolled into the same event. The main purpose of the wake now is to provide mourners - many of whom may have travelled some distance to be there - with refreshments and a time to talk informally and share memories of the deceased.

Modern times - what is a typical wake in the UK today?

Wakes are still traditional around the world today, and some have evolved to include more modern elements, such as photo slideshows, video memories, music and other entertainment. The core purpose of the wake, however, remains the same: to provide a time for family and friends to come together to mourn and celebrate the life of the deceased.

A typical wake in the UK can take many forms, from a simple cup of tea or coffee at the church to a meal at a restaurant or drinks and food at a local bar or pub. 

An alternative suggestion might be to choose a location with particular significance for the person who is being remembered - perhaps their favourite beach, forest or other natural beauty spot, or their sports club or pub.

Planning a wake in the UK

Planning a wake, especially a highly personal one, can take a lot of effort at a challenging time. It is yet another layer of research and admin, when making the arrangements for the funeral itself is likely to have been stressful. 

If you are organising a wake alongside a funeral or cremation and finding it overwhelming, contact Fenix and we will be happy to advise you and help build the perfect gathering to honour your loved one.

Things to consider when planning a wake

  • Cost - this will vary depending on the area of the UK you are in, the type of food and drinks served, and the number of guests.
  • Venue - this needs to be decided upon before planning can go much further and can be a significant factor in the cost of the wake.
  • Time - It’s customary for the wake to follow the funeral directly, but there are no hard set rules. If the venue is a distance from the funeral home, take this into consideration.
  • Refreshments -  what types of food and drink will be served at the wake? Did your loved one have some favourite dishes you would like to include? Friends and family will gladly contribute by bringing a dish, or you may want to consider using a catering company who will be experienced in managing the setup of events. Check that your chosen venue allows outside catering when making enquiries.
  • Traditions - you will need to decide whether or not you will have any religious or cultural elements at the wake.
  • Speeches - decide if a member of the family or close friend to the deceased is going to say a few words or if more than one guest is going to share memories and stories.
  • Entertainment - you will need to decide whether or not you will have any activities or entertainment at the wake.
  • Invitations - you need to let guests know the plan as soon as you can so that you can confirm numbers with the venue and catering company.

Popular venues for a wake in the UK

Choosing the right venue for a wake comes down to the specific needs and budget of the family and friends of the deceased. Perhaps your loved one had a favourite restaurant, bar or pub or another place with a strong emotional connection

  1. Funeral homes. Funeral homes are the most common venues for wakes in the UK. They usually have a dedicated space for wakes and staff who can help with the planning and coordination of the wake.
  2. Churches. Churches are another popular venue for wakes, especially if the deceased was an active member. They often have a communal space that can accommodate a large number of guests. The peaceful atmosphere they have can feel comforting to all people, not just Christians. 
  3. Community centres. Community centres are a good option for those who are looking for a more casual venue for their wake and provide an option that is cheaper than a funeral home or restaurant. They often have a variety of spaces that can be hired, such as meeting rooms, dining halls, and even outdoor spaces. 
  4. Restaurants. Restaurants can be a good option for those who want to have a more informal wake, and if your loved one was a bit of a foodie, this may be a fitting venue. A restaurant should be able to put together a menu or buffet to fit your budget, and they can be a more relaxed setting for guests to come together and share memories over food and drink.
  5. Hotels. Hotels can be a good option for those who want to have a wake in a more luxurious setting. They can often accommodate large numbers of guests as well as providing accommodation for mourners who may have travelled some distance to attend. Hotels also have staff who can help with the planning and coordination of the wake. Food and drink will be handled by a professional kitchen so you can tailor the menu in a fitting way to pay tribute to the deceased.
  6. At home. Private homes can be a good option for those who want to have a more intimate wake and are also perhaps working on a tight budget. They can be a more personal setting for guests to come together and share memories. However, it is important to make sure that the home is large enough to accommodate the number of guests who will be attending. A home wake can also help keep costs down as family and friends may find it easier to prepare food and drinks for guests in this setting.

Decorations for a wake:

Some people like to dress the room for a wake, using flowers, photographs and other objects to honour the deceased. The specifics of decor for a wake will, of course, depend on the personality of your loved one and the wishes of the family. 

When decorating the venue for a wake, it is good practice to:

  • Keep it simple. If in doubt, decorations should be respectful and understated so as not to distract from the focus of the wake.
  • Use natural objects like flowers and candles to create a calm and intimate atmosphere.
  • Keep it respectful. If displaying photographs and sharing memories of the deceased, make sure no one will be offended. Everyone loves a funny story, but some may not be appropriate for grieving family members. Use your discretion and sensitivity. 

Some popular decorations at a wake in the UK:

  • Photographs and video of the deceased
  • Floral tributes and candles
  • Sports kits (if your loved one was a huge football or cricket fan, for example)
  • Set up a ‘memory table’ with a book guests can write in
  • Personal items that meant a lot to your loved one or were central to their character and personality.

Food and drink ideas for a wake

When it comes to thinking about what food to serve at a wake, you are free to choose whatever you want that will suit your budget and pay fitting tribute to your loved one. 

Here are some tips for choosing refreshments for a funeral wake:

  • Consider the personality of the deceased. If the deceased was a foodie, you might want to serve food that they enjoyed, be it Indian, Italian or fine dining.
  • Consider the time of year. If the wake is being held during the winter, you might want to serve hearty comfort food, while lighter options will be appreciated in the summer.
  • Consider the budget. Wakes can be expensive, so you might want to set a budget for food and drinks.
  • Consider dietary requirements of your guests. There should be gluten and dairy-free options and enough variety for vegetarians and vegans to choose from too. Ensure that food is clearly labelled with key ingredients and any allergens.
  • Be flexible. If you are not sure what to serve, you can always ask the family and friends of the deceased for their suggestions.

Most popular catering options for a wake in the UK:


Perhaps the most common catering option at wakes in the UK, the buffet literally offers something for everyone! Sandwiches, sausage rolls, crisps and samosas are all popular items to include. Make sure you don’t forget the vegetarians and vegans too. A buffet doesn’t have to be just cold food either, it’s increasingly common for a selection of hot dishes - roasted meats, curries or quiche etc - to be served, along with a choice of side dishes and the usual cold fayre.

Afternoon tea (or coffee) and cakes. 

Tea is an institution in the UK, and almost no event is complete without the offer of a cup. If your budget for the wake cannot cover a buffet or a hot meal, then guests will be relieved to be offered a hot drink and a light snack and the chance to mingle after the funeral.

Restaurant meal

This is probably the most expensive option for catering for a wake, but if food played a central part in the life of your loved one and they had a favourite dining spot, then this could be the most fitting tribute to them.

Home-cooked food

The most budget friendly option for a wake is of course home-cooked food, prepared by the family and friends of the deceased. That’s not to say the budget is the only reason to choose this option - you may have a family full of fantastic cooks or professional chefs who can cook up a storm for the final sendoff of your loved one.

For help booking any element of a funeral service or wake contact Fenix today

As this guide has shown, although it’s not compulsory to always hold a wake after a funeral, it can be an invaluable opportunity to reconnect family and friends, share stories and fond memories of the deceased and release some of the pressure and sadness from the buildup to the funeral.

The exact shape the wake takes is up to you and your family and friends. It can be as simple - or as elaborate - as it needs to be. Just like every life, death and funeral, there is no right or wrong way to do it. Only to pay tribute to your loved one in the most personal, fitting way you can. Remember, if you need assistance with any aspect of organising a funeral or wake, our dedicated team are here to provide impartial advice and a transparent price to create a memorial as unique as the life it is celebrating.

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