“They opened the first classless restaurant,” Gilligan says. “That’s why the counter is there, so a millionaire could sit next to a truck driver.” Gilligan recalls seeing that ethos in action early on, when Morton gave a burger, a milkshake, and two pounds to a homeless woman who entered the London restaurant a few months after it opened. It’d be easy to dismiss her story as merely an attempt to convey corporate do-gooding. But an hour later, a homeless man wanders into the very restaurant she’s sitting in. It doesn’t take long for one waitress to give him a plate of fries and for another to find him a seat at the counter.

The longevity of the Love All, Serve All philosophy is thanks in large part to Gilligan, who has always maintained the chain’s spirit -- even after the messy split of cofounders Morton and Tigrett, the wake of which brought years of litigation, financial hardship, and multiple ownership changes for the company. She treats every person equally, whether he or she is an average joe or John Lennon. Indeed, Gilligan has met and charmed hundreds of celebrities over the course of her career. She fetched tea and toast for Chuck Berry in the 1970s despite the restaurant’s strict forbiddance of menu changes. She silenced a finger-snapping John McEnroe during his enfant terrible days in the 1980s. She teased germaphobic Donald Trump so relentlessly for not shaking her hand that he ended up wrapping her in his arms for a bear hug that became a front-page photo. Gilligan never gets fazed by the star power of the famous folks she meets, but she always leaves an impression on them. In fact, at a 2006 London music festival, guitarist Pete Townshend of the Who saw Gilligan, called her name, and, when she didn’t hear him, leaped from his trailer to chase after her.

The queen of England even honored Gilligan in 1998 by making her an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire. Gilligan wears her MBE medal, along with dozens of Hard Rock pins -- she owns more than 600 in all -- on the starched, white waitstaff uniform she still dons for work each day.

Several years ago, Gilligan considered retiring from her ambassadorial duties, but with the help of a little persuasion from her colleagues, she reconsidered. What made her stay? Not the brushes with fame or the honors she’s received or the buttons that have been emblazoned with her likeness. It was people like the 17-year-old Hard Rock employee in Osaka, Japan, who stayed up for three days and three nights to finish a hand-painted kimono for her, a gift that she says brought tears to her eyes, even more than the MBE.

“It’s not all about stars and guitars,” she says. “It’s about the people -- always about the people.”