SINGAPORE - Family-style karaoke chain Teo Heng is back on song again, with its reopening on Tuesday (April 19) drawing students, married couples who took the day off, and long-time regulars to its Suntec City outlet.
The branch, which has 19 rooms, is already fully booked till June, such is the pent-up demand for belting out tunes, and despite Teo Heng raising prices at all its four outlets.
The one in JCube is fully booked on weekends and holidays till May.
"Causeway Point is catching up soon, even though we opened bookings only yesterday... Star Vista is filling up too, people have been calling non-stop," said Ms Jean Teo, one of the directors at Teo Heng KTV.
Family KTV outlets are among all nightlife establishments that can reopen on Tuesday after going dark for more than two years because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The reprieve for the battered nightlife sector comes after several safe management measures were eased and daily numbers of reported Covid-19 cases began to decline from late February.
Among the patrons who turned up for a mid-day slot at Teo Heng's Suntec City outlet was Eunoia Junior College student Rachel Lin and her group of eight friends.
"Today we had home-based learning - we just wanted to sing and have fun (after we were done with homework)," said Rachel, 18. This was the group's first time in a karaoke outlet after more than two years.
Their first song on the queue? Taiwanese singer-songwriter Eric Chou's Ni Hao Bu Hao (Hi How Are You).
Said Rachel: "It is one of my favourite songs... I used to go to KTVs once a week during secondary school days. Today's two-hour booking is barely enough, we are hoping to get an extra hour (to sing)."
The increase in price for bookings - due to higher rental and utility costs - did not dampen the enthusiasm of patrons The Straits Times spoke to.
A small room that used to cost $8 an hour during happy hours (noon to 7pm) is now $12. During peak hours from 7pm till closing, the bill is $18 an hour.
The hourly rates for a medium-sized room are $14 (happy hours) and $20 (peak hours), while those for a large room are $16 (happy hours) and $24 (peak hours).
Depending on room size, up to 10 people are allowed to be in the room at any one time.
The chain, which used to have 14 outlets, lost 10 to the pandemic, and Ms Teo is hopeful that the business can bounce back.
"We will try our best to accommodate everyone... we know people really want to sing here, but we have to apologise that we can't have everyone," she said.
"Hopefully when we regain our energy, we can expand the business and (open in) more areas that are convenient for customers."
Started in 1990, Teo Heng is touted as one of the pioneers in the karaoke industry here.
Business is also brisk at other family-style karaoke outlets.
8 Degree Lounge, which has three outlets, reopened the Civil Service Club @ Bukit Batok one at 3pm. Its five rooms are already fully booked till mid-May, with marketing manager Jolin Goh saying the April 4 announcement about the reopening of nightlife businesses triggered bookings.
However, 8 Degree Lounge will keep its two other outlets at HomeTeamNS in Bukit Batok and Orchid Country Club shut for now.
“It has been hard to get staff. Of the seven staff we had at (the Civil Service Club @ Bukit Batok outlet), three went back to Malaysia, China and Vietnam... so in a short period, we’ve had to hire Singaporeans and train them, and get them up to speed with how to use the equipment and even the payment system,” said Ms Goh.
The company is keeping prices the same as before the pandemic, with a large room at $30 an hour. With a minimum spend of $150, the charge is waived for three hours.
All the KTV outlets The Straits Times spoke to said customers are abiding by the rules, including wearing their masks while singing.
“Customers have been so understanding, they also want to make sure that they are following the rules because karaoke is such a big part of their lives and they are just so excited to be back,” said Ms Sugo Rika, head of marketing at HaveFun Karaoke.
The chain has four outlets at 313@somerset, Downtown East, Safra Toa Payoh and Safra Yishun, with two more opening in May. One will be in Lucky Chinatown shopping centre and the other at Bugis+ mall.
“We are so busy and packed... our phones have been ringing off the hook, and we are so glad to be back,” she added.