A career pivot is never easy, but when you have passion for the brand but no longer have passion for your role, it’s time for a change.
This is what Natasha Abou Moghli was facing after 12 years on the floor in hospitality, most recently, having worked her way up to Head Sommelier at Gaia Dubai.
“I decided that I didn’t want to pursue my career with alcohol. And I remember feeling like a hypocrite when I would suggest the wine or talk about it because I just didn't have the passion anymore,” says Moghli.
She had always received compliments on her training style and public speaking, but assumed it was just her natural communication skills. With her career at a crossroads, she saw an opportunity.
Moghli recognized a big gap in Gaia’s training—there was no official manager and everyone received the same training, regardless of their role. And that training was mostly someone reading notes from a powerpoint presentation with no visuals.
“You have reception, the bar team, the wine team, the floor, the back of house. Everyone was receiving the same training, which is not very beneficial. So there was a lot of confusion,” Moghli says.
Eager to prove herself to management as the right person to lead and improve training at Gaia, Moghli spent eight months earning a Certified Professional Training Manager (CPTM) certificate. It was costly but worthwhile.
For the following year, she served as both Head Sommelier and a training manager, but management said that she still needed to prove herself before taking a leadership role.
Managing the process to replace their unsuitable LMS would provide her the opportunity to show her mettle.
Moghli’s boss had purchased a cheaper learning tool that wasn’t tailored for hospitality. He pushed managers to invest time in learning about what it offered, but when you spend 12-14 hours on your feet, learning clunky technology isn’t a priority.
“It was very complicated with long tutorials and none of the managers wanted a part of it, so I decided to take the initiative. I looked over everything, memorized the platform, and I told my boss to hand it over—that I'd make it my baby. And I did,” says Moghli.
She created and uploaded materials. She got a projector and trained the trainers and held dry runs to prepare them for public speaking. This helped build credibility in her new role and she convinced the executives to promote her to Brand Training Manager.
“When I got promoted, I decided that my first mission was to really change how training is run. That meant changing the LMS that my boss had decided on, which wouldn’t be easy,” says Moghli.
Moghli knew that their next training platform had to be easy and convenient so that both trainers and non-tech-savvy staff would continually open and use it.
“My top three factors were: easy-to-use, brandable, and user-friendly,” says Moghli.
“With our previous system, just training people to use it was a big hassle for me—for example, it couldn’t open on Android and then I had to be the IT person. I was wasting so much of my energy and time,” she continued.
After researching and reviewing many platforms, the simplicity and personalization features that Continu offered really stood out.
“I saw how personalized and branded Continu could be. I wanted to help Gaia stand out by providing the best service there is and I wanted to make our staff’s lives easier with a solution they could rely on. That is what I found in Continu,” says Moghli.
Selling it to her boss was challenging because of the cheap pre-existing LMS. He finally capitulated, but made it very clear that he needed to see results. They set KPIs around assessment scores, content views, and user engagement: comments and likes.
While her extensive research gave her confidence that Continu was the right choice for Gaia, Moghli knew that it would be the make or break decision of her new career.
Having someone in a new role introducing a new technology made some people dubious. But Moghli never gave up.
“I had to try different approaches, but when they saw how serious I was about what I envisioned for Gaia on a global scale and how Continu would be really beneficial, I was able to get the training managers and department heads on board,” she says.
Before, info was just being sent to a WhatsApp group and was getting lost. Now, Gaia has all its training and brand materials organized in a very structured way within Continu.
“You have the food Bible, the wine Bible. You have trainings about the bar that are divided into the cocktails and the wine, the sequence of service—everything is very on point, so it's easier for everyone to navigate,” says Moghli.
She notes that Continu is particularly visual and lends to creativity, which helps keep people engaged.
“We have a monthly Gaia Magazine that our reception team creates and I post on Continu. Everyone looks forward to the interviews and all the Gaia news, so it keeps them coming back, keeps them interested,” says Moghli.
To get managers and staff engaged and excited about trainings, Moghli educated herself about video editing and started creating in-house videos to post on Continu.
“I started taking videos of role plays—with the bartender crafting the cocktails with the garnish—and I started creating workshops that would get their attendance on Continu, especially on soft skills like emotional intelligence, leadership, and communication. That helped,” says Moghli.
She also changed the training approach, creating specialized content for the front-of-house staff, such as the head waiter and waiters, and back-of-house, such as the people who carry the food and put it on the table.
“There's no point in teaching a bartender how to debone a fish, because it’s not their job,” notes Moghli. “So I separated them: Every Monday there's a training. Every Tuesday there's training. And then at the end of the month, you get a monthly test on these trainings and they’re all in Continu.”
Moghli can see which content the staff is opening and reviewing in Continu and whether their attendance is meeting expectations. And she says she’s seen measured improvement in the team’s overall performance by analyzing the monthly test scores.
“From the Continu dashboard, I can go into each individual, see what they open, what they're doing, and how they score. So first I check their attendance, and then I review the monthly tests. And they were improving.”
She even gave the staff pop quizzes every 15 days to keep them on their toes. She says that she’s observed a big change in understanding and customer service levels, which is all about confidence.
“The staff have gained a certain type of confidence, which creates a smoother flow with our guests and so we get positive reviews all the time. The staff is able to communicate more. They're much more aware of what is and isn't the standard of service, the proper body language, and how they should speak,” says Moghli.
And if staff aren’t meeting the mark, she refers them to targeted trainings in Continu.
“When walking the floor, I can go up and say, ‘This is incorrect. Remember what I told you about this? So it’s not just behind the screen or with a projector. It's a mixture and Continu has contributed in a very positive way,” Moghli continued.
Gaia has come to recognize that without formal training, there will be no brand standards, no structure, so Moghli has created an onboarding program and a handbook that helps new staff understand the Gaia brand and their role in it.
“Before, new staff would just come, get the uniform, and then be told: ‘All right, go! Float around. Get on the floor. Start working’. There were no cross-trainings. There was no real introduction to the brand, the concept,” says Moghli.
“Now, I sit down with four or five new joiners and we go through the handbook, then I take them into Continu and assign them content so they can learn more about their role. Then, we have lunch in Gaia so they can experience the true essence of the brand,” says Moghli.
Moghli started the program at Gaia Dubai, but expanded it to Gaia’s restaurants in Monaco, and plan to take the tools soon to London, Marbella, and Rome, providing brand and service continuity as the company grows.
“Knowing that I started something and it's going to keep growing and growing. I think that is beautiful. They get to see the true value of what a training department can do for a global establishment,” says Moghli.
With the recent turmoil and turnover in the hospitality industry, having a formal approach to staff training and continual performance evaluation provides Gaia’s staff with structure and a career planning framework.
“It helps staff stay at the company longer because it gives them a goal, a mission. It shows them that we are evolving, and then following through the assessments, the smart goal planning, the performance evaluation, they can see their growth opportunities,” says Moghli.
Moghli says that she wants to provide the structure that was missing when she joined as a sommelier and help the training staff grow further in their careers, to support the company growth.
“Our trainers now have all the tools they need. And Gaia keeps growing, so the more people we add, the stronger people we’ll need to go open the brand in a new location and start to train new people there. This is what we're creating: trainers who can carry on globally what we started,” says Moghli.