Dabbawalla: delivering lunch boxes, BananiVista

The Dabbawalla: Delivering Excellence Through Tiffin Boxes in Mumbai

   Mumbai Dabbawallas: A Lunch-Box Delivery and Return System


If you’ve spotted a group of men wearing pristine white ‘Kurta’, ‘pyajama’, and a white Gandhi ‘topi’, you’ve just spotted the ‘Dabbawalla’. Over the years the ‘Dabbawallas’ have acquired a celebrity status, and are deemed as venerated management Guru’s at esteemed Universities from around the world. Exchange students come to Mumbai, to understand the way the ‘Dabbawalla’s’ function.

Dabbawalla: delivering lunch boxes (PC:AllIndiaTravelinfo.com)

Dabbawalla: delivering lunch boxes (PC:AllIndiaTravelinfo.com)


HRH Prince Charles has personally felicitated their abilities at the Churchgate station and had invited them to come and attend his wedding. Prince Charles was taken aback to learn that the group successfully carried out their deliveries using the six sigma method with zero involvement of any computing system.

The ‘Dabbawalla’ commenced operation in the 1890’s. A Parsi gentleman requested for homemade food to be delivered at his workplace. After the food was consumed, the Dabbawalla would take the empty box back to his residence. The next day the delivery was taken at an appointed time, and the Dabbawalla ensured that the tiffin reached the individual at the brink of his lunch break. The clan is a hard-working one and ensured deliveries even under the bitterest circumstances. The system received instant gratification, and gradually a number of office goers, and students followed suit.

Today our lives are driven by technology, but the Dabbawalla operate by a certain system of coding. Earlier colour coding was widely used. But as time passed things changed. The colour coding system was replaced by a numeric and alphanumeric system of coding. The system adopted is to ensure that every employee (even those who are uneducated) comprehend the pattern marked on top of each box and deliver the tiffin at the right place and time steering away from any error.

The ‘Dabbawallas’ have a simple motto, which is to deliver food to the hungry. They ensure that the deliverables reach on time and also there is enough time to give to those who are needy of food without breaking the six-sigma chain. It is believed that there is a tonne of food in the tiffin that can isn’t consumed for a number of reasons. If the receiver sticks on a ‘share’ sticker it makes a world of a difference. The tiffin boxes that have the ‘share’ sticker, is later sorted on receiving the used ‘Dabbas’ and is evenly distributed to children and other needy people.

The famous Dabbawallas (PC: IndiaToday)

The famous Dabbawallas (PC: IndiaToday)


Over the years the ‘Dabbawallas’ have set up their own kitchen-space. Thousands of tiffins go out from here on a routine basis serving bachelors, and immigrants who live in a home away from their own. The food is simple and is prepared using fresh ingredients. Only refined oil is used in the preparation of meals. They only believe in serving vegetarian food from their kitchen.

As a Mumbaikar, I am proud to comprehend the nuances that get involved in their working hierarchy. The team comprises of 5000 ‘Dabbawalla’s’ (inclusive of 635 supervisors), who carry out 400,000 transactions in a day, delivering food to over 200,000 people, in a matter of three hours. The math is overwhelming indeed!

As we fold up this write-up, we learn that the simplest things can be made larger than life with sheer will and determination to excel. While the ‘Dabbawalla’s’ are successfully operating in Mumbai, they are now beginning to go global too!

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