The Rise Of Death Cafes

Posted: 12/12/2017

The old saying goes there are certain topics we should avoid at the dinner table, these include politics, how much you earn, and religion. However, there are other topics that we choose to not discuss, no reminder needed. One such topic includes the conversation about death. Think about it, can you honestly say you have spoken about death,  (and not just a bit of a joke such as about how that last trip to the gym felt like it was going to kill you, this doesn’t count I’m afraid) but a genuinely serious conversation about what you would like to happen to you once you’ve passed away? Probably not. But maybe the rise of death cafes is going to be changing that in years to come.

Why do we not talk about death?

There are numerous reasons why we tend to discuss death. For some, it’s purely out of habit rather than any genuine reason why they avoid it. However, some find the idea of the conversation of death a deeply uncomfortable. To be reminded of one’s mortality, despite it being inevitable, is something many people would prefer to not face at all.

In fact according to statistics provided by the Dying Matters Coalition, more than half of people in relationships in the UK do not know their partner’s end-of-life wishes. Overall, only a third of people have told someone their funeral plans, whilst 70 percent have admitted that they are uncomfortable with the very thought of discussing mortality with anyone at all.

Ultimately, death will happen to us all, and its something we are confronted with an almost daily basis – consider the news, movies or tv programmes we watch every day as just a little example. So,  rather than putting our heads in the sand, perhaps it would be better to start having an open conversation. And maybe a Death Cafe is a good place to get going, after all, its a subject we can’t escape. But it doesn’t have to be a completely morbid, depressing subject that we talk about.

What is a Death Cafe?


Talking about death over a cup of tea and a slice of cake may not be something you are accustomed to, but it may be an easier way to approach that subject we tend to avoid at all costs.

  • Death cafes have popped up all around the country and in fact across the world, spreading around Europe, North America and Australasia.
  • Since 2011, over 5500 cafes have opened.
  • The concept of a death cafe was created by Jon Underwood and the first death cafe was opened in Hackney in East London. Underwood was initially inspired by the Swiss Cafe Mortel Movement in Switzerland, where people would meet in public to have a frank discussion about all things death- related.
  • Death cafes are groups that intend to help increase awareness of death and with the intention of helping people come to terms with the idea.
  • Death cafes are usually run in one of these two ways: with a person leading a group to get the conversation going, or there may be a collection of groups in a room if the death cafe is particularly big when it comes down to numbers, with each group having their own individual death discussion.
  • However, it is important to note that these places are not a substitute for a counselling session or bereavement support.
  • People can discuss with others, often strangers over a cup of coffee and cake and chat openly about death or their funeral plans in a confidential space.
  • Death cafes are run on a not for profit basis.

Why should I go to a death cafe?

Why shouldn’t you? A death cafe is not intended to be a morbid depressing place where you end up running out the door with tears streaming down your face. The intention of these places is that they create an environment where talking about death is acceptable, and a comfortable thing people can do – something which many feel unable to do in their day-to-day lives or with close loved ones. Death cafes allow people to engage with death in a safe and honest way, in a respectful space without any pretences and free from discrimination.

Can I hold my own death cafe?


Having an open and honest discussion about death in a neutral space may help to make talking about the topic easier.

Yes, holding your own death cafe is possible! Death cafes hold a flexible format. No two death cafes tend to be the same as a result, people can alter them as they please and make them as unique as they want them to be. In order to hold one, you simply need the following:

  • First and foremost, people willing to talk about death.
  • A meeting spot already reserved
  • Refreshments
  • A host and facilitator

What will be involved holding a death cafe?

Having good organizational and communication skills are integral to running a successful death cafe, as well as an enthusiasm and easy for talking about death. In terms of activities involved with a death cafe, this may include the following:

  • Advertising and publicising the death cafe
  • Recruiting other members – the death cafe website recommends that between 6 and 12 people is a good group size to have, with three being the very minimum and 20 regarded as the maximum size a group for a death cafe should be.
  • Choosing a venue – this doesn’t have to be limited to an actual cafe, this could be at a film screening, art show, training sessions or even at a political event as part of a wider programme.
  • Agreeing who will be doing what
  • Writing up an evaluation if you choose to do so after the event.
  • There is no need to write an agenda for the discussion.
  • Ensuring the safety of those attending
  • Ensure that there is a minimum of 2 death cafe people at any one event for health and safety purposes.