She is easily Hard Rock’s most famous waitress, even though waiting tables is no longer her gig. At 11:59 p.m. on June 13, 1996, a minute before Gilligan’s 25th anniversary, former CEO Jim Berk called her to offer her a promotion. Now Gilligan, 68, works as the company’s cultural attaché, earning, it’s safe to say, decidedly more than her starting salary of £1.20, or $2.00, a day. Her job today entails traveling the world, educating new employees on the company’s history and philosophy, and spreading goodwill for the chain. Among her responsibilities is to appear at every guitar smash, the celebration held at each new Hard Rock restaurant prior to its grand opening.

“You see the CEO here and the five or 10 vice presidents over there?” she asks the crowd at each event, pointing at the executives in attendance. “We can open our doors tomorrow if they don’t turn up. But if [you] don’t turn up, we don’t open. We need you.”

The top brass don’t seem to take it personally. Rather, they relish Gilligan’s continued enthusiasm and passion. “Rita is much more than an employee for Hard Rock International,” says Calum MacPherson, company vice president of operations, Europe. “She inspires our staff and embodies the spirit of what Hard Rock Cafe was built on. To see her interact with younger staffers and talk to them about Hard Rock’s principles is truly inspirational.”

Gilligan’s decades-long tenure in an industry known for its high turnover is just as confounding as the endurance of Hard Rock itself. From the start, the restaurant was an unlikely success story. Putting a burger-and-beer joint in the shadow of Buckingham Palace made about as much sense as serving sushi at Yankee Stadium. At the time, the ritzy clientele of Old Park Lane didn’t go much for kitschy decor, and they certainly didn’t eat food with their hands. But Hard Rock Cafe cofounders Morton and Isaac Tigrett, who have since become power players in the restaurant industry, tapped into a market ready to rebel against British snobbery. The eatery’s Love All, Serve All motto anchored the upheaval.