British funeral etiquette

Knowing proper funeral etiquette for a traditional British funeral can help you express your sympathy and show your support for the bereaved family during this difficult time.

It may also help you feel more comfortable at the funeral itself, as these can be tricky social situations.

This is a guide to funeral etiquette for immediate family members, extended family, friends and other associates attending a funeral.

Even if you’ve been to a funeral before, the protocol may be different this time. Or, perhaps you may need to refresh your memory of traditional British funeral etiquette.


This article has been provided by award-winning UK broker, Reassured.

Reassured can compare multiple funeral plan quotes on your behalf, from the UK’s largest providers.

A funeral plan allows you to set the precedent for the etiquette of your own funeral.

All your wishes can be specified in your plan so that the funeral director and your loved ones can arrange the funeral according to these.

Funeral plans arranged through Reassured start from as little as £19.11* a month.

Why not use our FEE-FREE, award-winning broker service to get your personalised quote?

Check the online funeral notice

The first port of call is to check the obituary/funeral notice of the deceased.

This should provide much of the information you need, including:

  • If the funeral is a private or open invite
  • The date, time and location of the funeral
  • The preference for flowers and/or charity donations
  • What to wear
  • If the ceremony is religious or non-religious
  • The name of the funeral director and link to their website

The funeral notice may be online, on the funeral director’s website or it may be published in the obituaries section of the local newspaper.

Not sure when or where a funeral is being held?

We have this covered in our article on how to find out when a funeral is being held UK »

1. Sympathy flowers etiquette

What’s the etiquette for sympathy flowers in the UK?

Those who are fairly close to the bereaved family may wish to send them sympathy flowers before or after the funeral.

Lilies are one of the most popular sympathy flowers, followed by carnations and roses in colours such as white, pink, yellow or pale blue[1].

It’s good etiquette to send flowers with an accompanying sympathy card that includes a short message of condolence and your full name.

Those who aren’t as close to the bereaved family may find it more appropriate to send a card only.

If they’ve requested charity donations instead of flowers or cards, then it’s good etiquette to follow their instructions.

Sympathy flowers or cards shouldn’t be brought to the funeral or handed to the family during the service.

2. Funeral flowers etiquette

What’s the etiquette for funeral flowers in the UK?

The funeral notice should say whether it’s okay to send funeral flowers or not.

Like with sympathy flowers, the family may request a charity donation instead of flowers (which tends to be very common these days).

Or they may request family flowers only which means anyone outside of the family should make a charity donation.

If it’s okay to send flowers, then it’s good etiquette to arrange these through the funeral director or to send them to the funeral home prior to the service.

The funeral director can tell you which flowers are most suitable (as the family may have chosen a particular floral arrangement or colour theme) and at the funeral service they’ll place them with the other tributes.

British funeral etiquette may include traditional English flowers and colours, but the etiquette will be different for other countries and religions. For example, for a Jewish funeral, flowers aren't appropriate at all.

For more information, see this guide on funeral customs by religion, ethnicity, and culture.

3. Funeral donation amount etiquette

What’s the etiquette for a funeral donation in the UK?

People tend to donate the amount they would have spent on flowers, although you could donate more or less than this, it really depends on what you can afford.

With most online funeral notices, a charity donation can be made along with a message to the family to express your condolences.

4. Chapel of rest etiquette

What’s the etiquette for visiting the chapel of rest in the UK?

It’s good etiquette to ask the bereaved family, (or when that’s not possible, to ask the funeral director), for approval to view the deceased in the chapel of rest.

If the funeral is private, it’s likely that visitation to the chapel of rest is for close family and friends only.

5. Funeral dress etiquette

What’s the etiquette for funeral dress in the UK?

For a traditional British funeral, the etiquette is to wear something smart and in dark colours such as black or navy blue.

Usual attire for men is a black or dark coloured suit with a tie and shirt, for women, it’s a smart black or dark coloured outfit, perhaps a dress.

Some people like to add a subtle pop of colour to their outfit, perhaps with a different colour scarf or tie.

If the funeral is a celebration of life, then the family may request that mourners wear bright colours or wear the deceased’s favourite colour, (if so, it’s etiquette to follow their wishes rather than arrive in something dark coloured).

Either way, it’s best not to wear anything too casual, such as jeans or trainers.

6. Funeral procession etiquette

What’s funeral procession etiquette in the UK?

Sometimes there’s a question of who goes in the funeral cars in the procession.

The funeral cars follow the hearse in the funeral procession to the location of the funeral service, starting from the funeral home or from the home of the person who’s passed.

Limousines are the most common funeral cars, but not every funeral includes one.

The immediate family should be behind the hearse in the funeral car. This is: spouse, children, parents, siblings.

Other family and friends can travel behind in their own cars but there’s no particular order.

If you’d like to be part of the procession, then you’d need to get the details of route and timings from the funeral director in advance.

It’s also not obligatory to travel in the procession. You can go straight to the funeral venue if you prefer.

For more information, see this helpful guide on driving in a funeral procession.

7. Funeral service etiquette

What’s the etiquette at a funeral service in the UK?

One of the main concerns people have is what they should do and say at a funeral service.

Here are some tips:

  1. Make sure you leave with plenty of time for travel and parking before the service starts. Arriving late is poor etiquette, (as with any occasion)
  2. The front row seats are reserved for close family and friends. Sometimes, they may already be seated before other mourners are guided in to take their seats
  3. A funeral service tends to last around 30 - 45 minutes, sometimes longer, so be prepared to sit quietly until the end, (this may be a little more difficult if you have children with you)
  4. Know what to expect by reading the order of service, this may also provide details of the wake
  5. If you have the opportunity, it’s good etiquette to say a few words to the bereaved family. It’s hard to know what to say at a funeral, but any kind words you can provide would be appreciated. For example, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss’, ‘You’re in my thoughts’ and/or ‘I’m here if you need anything
  6. After the ceremony there may be a gathering in another room or outside the venue to view the floral tributes and reflect on the service; if you feel comfortable you should stay around for this

8. Funeral tipping etiquette

What’s the etiquette for tipping at a funeral in the UK?

In the UK, it’s not customary to tip funeral staff or any other person that provides a service for the funeral.

9. Funeral wake etiquette

What’s the etiquette for a funeral wake in the UK?

The wake takes place after the funeral, either at a public venue or at the family’s home.

Anyone that went to the funeral can attend the wake if they wish.

It tends to have a slightly more relaxed atmosphere, where there may be food and drinks served.

The etiquette is to continue to behave respectfully (but less formally), and you may wish to join in with sharing memories of the deceased, looking at old photos and/or singing along to music.

If you haven’t had an opportunity to speak to the immediate family of the bereaved, then it would be good etiquette to do this at the wake.

What should you not do at a funeral?

Whether you’ve been to a funeral or not, common sense should tell you that any of the following behaviour may be deemed inappropriate and disrespectful at a funeral:

  • Arrive late or leave early
  • Using your phone to text, make or receive phone calls and/or taking photos (and posting photos on social media)
  • Eating, drinking or chewing gum during the service
  • Chatting loudly with other mourners or drawing attention to yourself in any way
  • Making negative comments about the deceased or their family

Funeral etiquette during Covid-19 (Coronavirus pandemic)

Funeral etiquette during Covid-19 is to simply follow the UK government’s current rules and guidance for attending a funeral.

For example:

  • Don’t attend the funeral if you have any coronavirus symptoms, are self-isolating or are in quarantine
  • In Scotland, maintain at least 1-metre distance from others who are not from your household. In Wales, a 2-metre distance must be maintained
  • Avoid close face to face interaction/limiting close contact with those who are not from your household
  • Washing hands regularly throughout the day
  • Wearing a face covering in crowded areas

The rules and guidance are always changing in different parts of the UK so for the most up to date information check the government website.

If you’re unable to attend the funeral for one reason or another due to the virus, you may wish to send flowers to the family’s home or visit them at another time to express your condolences.

Planning ahead for your own funeral

62% of people who’ve attended and planned a funeral said that this had made them think of planning ahead for their own funeral[2].

Arranging your own funeral in advance could eliminate some of the worry and confusion that your loved ones may go through when the time comes.

This can be done with a prepaid funeral plan arranged through Reassured.

A funeral plan allows you to plan your final farewell according to your wishes but also allows you to pay today’s prices for the essential services, (avoiding rising funeral costs).

Funeral plans arranged through us are fully FPA approved and start from as little as £19.11* a month.

Get your FREE quotes from leading funeral plan providers by contacting our award-winning team.

Sources:

*£19.11 per month pricing includes a £75 discount only available to Co-operative members and is based on a 50-year-old purchasing a Co-operative Simple Funeral Plan at £3,020 over the maximum term available of 25 years (total amount repayable £5,733.40) as of 1st March 2021

[1] https://www.griefandsympathy.com/sympathy-flowers-etiquette.html

[2] SunLife (2021), Cost of Dying Report, sunlife.co.uk/costofdying2021

Related articles:

Our Providers

At Reassured, we will provide you with quotes from Co-op Funeral Care.

All of the funeral plans we provide are fully regulated by the Funeral Planning Authority (FPA) ensuring you and your money are protected.

Co-op logo

Very easy to understand and very quick

Yes very pleased with my choice very helpful easy to understand and very pleasant transaction all good!

Mrs M Rushworth

Very professional and reassuring

Very professional and reassuring. Life insurance sorted in about 10 minutes.

Stephen Davies

very courteous and friendly

very courteous and friendly. Polite professional and empathic.

Stedroy Fenton

Another happy customer

Another happy customer I am. They are very professional and kind. Fully communicative. I recommend.

Piotr Stepien

Really attentive during the call

Really attentive during the call, good clear guidance throughout. Well done.

Michael Reynolds

Amazing service

Amazing service quick fast and easy and Joey was a star on the phone really help me thanks.

Sera Woolley

I made the right choice and now I feel…

I made the right choice and now I feel relieved that I did.

glyn

Really genuine kind and compassionate…

Really genuine kind and compassionate team with great knowledge and friendly approach highly recommend them!

Katelia Merritt

I must say Jake took me through every…

I must say Jake took me through every step and was brilliant, recommend them anytime.

Allan Green

Very happy and everything explained…

Very happy and everything explained well, so glad a took the time to take the call, normally I would say I'm busy. But compared to other company's we save so much more money.

Jenny Berry