Rita Gilligan isn’t just the first Hard Rock Cafe waitress. She’s an original.
IN EARLY 1971, Rita Gilligan wandered into a building that was in the process of being converted from an auto showroom to an American-themed diner in London’s tony Mayfair neighborhood. She was answering an ad in the London Evening Standard seeking “matronly” waitresses between the ages of 30 and 55. At just 30 years old, the Galway, Ireland, native knew she barely qualified, so when a long-haired young man claiming to be the owner of the restaurant approached her and asked her age, Gilligan told a lie that no woman ever tells: She claimed she was 32, two years older than she actually was.
Despite Gilligan’s Gaelic-accented charm and her years of white-glove-restaurant experience, the young owner, whose name was Peter Morton, wasn’t convinced that he should give Gilligan a job.
“[I had] a husband, two babies, a mortgage, and a hump on my back, and this 21-year-old American who’s come over the night before says, ‘You’re great, but you’re too young,’ “ Gilligan remembers. “I told him, ‘I’m the best you’re going to get, so you’d better take me.’ “
He did. On June 14, 1971, when the doors of the world’s first Hard Rock Cafe opened, Gilligan was there. And today, 38 years later, she’s still with the company -- the only member of the original staff who remains. For that, Gilligan has become a legend within the Hard Rock community. Cocktails and menu items have been named after her, and four of the restaurant chain’s collectible pins have borne her resemblance. During a recent visit to the original Hard Rock Cafe in London, she is interrupted at least a half-dozen times for hugs and hellos from chefs, waiters, and other colleagues.