How to Organise a Wake

Advice on organising an after-funeral reception

Last updated: 28 November 2016

What is a funeral wake?

When arranging a funeral, you may want to consider having a reception afterwards, where friends and family can gather to remember the life of your loved one. This is commonly known as a wake.

Funeral wakes are usually less formal than the ceremony, offering a place for the bereaved to gather, share stories of your loved one, and celebrate their life. If you are organising a wake, you may want to consider the venue, catering, and whether or not there will be entertainment. Planning a wake may seem overwhelming, but funeral directors will often give advice and family and friends are usually able to help with arrangements. Listed below are the key elements of how to organise a wake.

Guests

People may choose to attend the wake if they cannot attend the funeral; likewise, some guests who were at the funeral will decide not to attend the wake. It is also a chance for children to attend, especially if the funeral itself may be too distressing for them.

You may decide to place a funeral and wake announcement in a local newspaper or via a Funeral Zone obituary. Or you may choose for the wake to be announced at the end of the funeral service.

Some people prefer the wake to be private. If you choose to go down this route, you can send out invitations or ask close family members to spread the word.

Time and place

Traditionally, guests attend the wake after the funeral service. However, if family and close friends are heading to a crematorium or a burial site after the funeral, this may be tricky.

The time of the wake is up to you. If you wish to wait a few hours after the service, this is completely acceptable. Make sure that everyone who wishes to attend knows the time and location.

It can take place anywhere you want, as long as the number of people you are expecting can fit in comfortably. The most common funeral wake venues are:

  • Church halls
  • Bars
  • Social clubs
  • Sports clubs
  • Hotels

Remember to book the venue in advance and to make sure guests know how to get there. If you want to decorate the venue with flowers or photographs, or set up entertainment (see below), you may need to visit the venue beforehand. Talk to the venue staff to organise when you can set up.

Catering

Some venues will provide catering for wakes. If in doubt, ask your funeral director, who should be able to recommend a good caterer who does food for wakes. If you wish to serve your loved one’s favourite food or drink, many venues and caterers will be flexible with these kinds of requests.

If you are looking to keep cost at a minimum, one alternative is to provide your own food. Ask friends and relatives to make up sandwich platters and other buffet food items. Be sure to check with the venue first, as some may not allow you to serve your own food.

Entertainment

Wakes are traditionally seen as very solemn affairs. However, it is becoming increasingly popular to celebrate your loved one’s life with various forms of entertainment, including music and picture slideshows. If you are organising a wake, you may or may not decide to put on entertainment, depending what you think your loved one would want. Many funeral wake ideas centre around reflecting the loved one’s personality, and so entertainment may be appropriate.

Picture slideshows can be a heartfelt way of remembering the life of your loved one with your favourite photographs of them, accompanied by their favourite songs, or in silence for quiet reflection. Many venues will have the facilities to accommodate picture slideshows. This may be in the form of a laptop and projector, or large video screens. Be sure to ask beforehand to avoid disappointment.

If the venue does not have the right equipment, or if you are not confident enough with computers to make a slideshow, you can always print pictures and put them up in the venue. It is advised that you ask permission from the venue staff before doing so.

Music is also becoming increasingly popular. Again, many venues have the facilities to play music, but ask beforehand, as you may be required to provide a CD or MP3 playlist.

Budget

The cost of a wake can vary greatly, and you may have to adopt a cost-conscious approach to planning your loved one’s wake.

There are many ways to keep costs low. Here are just a few tips for how to plan a wake on a budget:

  • Printing pictures of your loved one yourself at home rather than spending money getting them professionally printed
  • Playing your own music via CD or MP3 Player
  • Providing the buffet food yourself. Ask friends and relatives to help out by bringing sandwich platters, salads, etc.
  • Choosing a venue that is low cost. For example, a bar might be free if guests are buying drinks
  • Shopping around for venues, rather than settling for the first one you find