Around 300 years ago, Benjamin Franklin said 'nothing is certain in life except death and taxes'. In the intervening years the pub trade has been vociferous about one of those subjects. Less so when it comes to the other.

For while we lobby for levies to be dropped, we still demonstrate the same British sense of awkwardness on the subject of death as we do when it comes to the act that creates us all in the first place.

But death is part of life. And it can also be part of your business plan, with pubs being a popular choice for funeral receptions.

It should go without saying that while these can be profitable, they have to be treated with sensitivity.

Charlie and Carole Edgeler (below) host an average of one wake a month at their St Austell tenancy, The Jubilee Inn in Pelynt, near Looe in Cornwall.

 

 

As Charlie explains: "They are so important and they are sensitive. It could be a mother, father or a very close friend. The first thing you do if someone walks into the pub is drop everything to speak to them about it. Give them time."

One piece of advice he offers is to get every detail of the day agreed in writing.

"It's really important that they know what we are going to do so, after that meeting we send a detailed letter or email confirming everything we have discussed," he says.

"When people come in they might not be thinking clearly. The letter breaks it down and avoids any confusion or misunderstanding."

Those details could include timings, food and drink options, music and the room to be used for the event. He also advises people they can pay a few days after the event, rather than chasing them on the day.

When it comes to food, buffets work well. The Jubilee offers three options on its "Celebration of Life" buffet menu, ranging from £12 to £19.50 per person. However, they add that it is important to be flexible.

Carole says: "You can ask them what kind of cake the person who is having the funeral would have liked, you can make it personal to them. You are helping think for them."

This approach also works for background music and whether or not the family would like to display a photo of their loved one.

Much of this type of business comes to The Jubilee from customers or the village but they also provide local funeral directors with information to go in their care packs.

 

 

Alan Davis, licensee at The Fountain Inn in Lower Gornal, Dudley, the West Midlands, has a similar approach to getting the message out about its services.

"We are a popular pub and most wakes are for people who will have used the pub," he says.

"There is a crematorium in the area and some of the funeral directors are locals here, so it's word of mouth. There's nothing special about what we do, we are just respectful and professional."

Professionalism and ensuring staff know how to behave is another important consideration.

Gareth Leakey, group manager of multiple operator The Distinct Group, says organisation is vital because you generally have less time to prepare and plan a funeral reception than other events at pubs.

Speed and sensitivity

One of its four pubs, The Adam & Eve in Mill Hill, London, hosts up to 50 receptions a year. "It's still a function but it is a different email or conversation, you have to show empathy," Gareth says. "You have less time to organise things than you would with a wedding, so you have to be sensitive but speedy."

He adds: "We ensure staff are trained to use appropriate language. You still greet people with a smile when they come in the main entrance but they don't want to be listening to chart music when they do so."

 

 

He also says that each event will have a different feel and it is up to the family and friends to dictate the kind of reception they want. "They are not all sombre, sometimes they are a big celebration of people who loved having a good time and the reception reflects that."

Back at The Jubilee, Charlie adds that your other customers need to be considered as well. "We normally have someone telling customers that we have a wake on. They know they are coming into a sensitive environment."

The approach they take is working, according to 82-year-old June Libby. Her husband Fred died three years ago and she explains that The Jubilee was the natural choice for the reception.

"My husband's grandparents used to own the Jubilee and we used to go there regularly on Saturdays and on special occasions. It was the obvious place to have the wake," she tells Inapub.

"They are very receptive to people in times of trouble and they are very sensitive in their approach. Nothing was too much trouble.

"They got the food I wanted and Fred liked Acker Bilk's music so that was playing in the background on the day."

June has lived in the village for 55 years and still visits the pub on a regular basis.

"Carole has been very good to me since I lost Fred and we meet up once a week for a chat about what's been going on in the village."

Perhaps that is really the key to this working in your pub, caring for your customers and knowing how you can help them while remaining professional.

The funeral director's view

Mike Owen, chief executive of the National Association of Funeral Directors, says pubs are great places for funeral receptions because "they offer a relaxed environment in which family and friends can share memories of the person they've lost."

He advises licensees to speak to local funeral directors for guidance on how to offer services.

"They might also perhaps invest in a leaflet designed specifically to set out what they can offer to funeral clients," he says. "These can be given out within the venue, available on their website and even offered to the funeral directors to give out to clients on their behalf."

And he adds that licensees should be flexible to the differing needs of customers. "Everyone is different and every funeral is different. Some clients may prefer a private room or discrete area of the venue to avoid mixing with regular customers — although as funerals become increasingly viewed as a celebration of life, as well as a farewell you may find that clients become more relaxed about needing privacy."