I Want a Dabbawalla to Deliver Lunch

Andrew sent me the video below about the dabbawala system in Mumbai. It is an awe-inspiring system built on intricacies and timeliness. Considering the irony of Indian Standard Time where everything runs late, your lunch does not. Your lunch is there come hell or monsoon season.

Since British rule in India, it is common to have your lunch delivered to you. Not a fast food restaurant you called to order, but your lunch from home cooked by your wife or grandmother. They cook the delicious Indian food in the morning and a dabbawala picks it up for the journey to your office desk.

A dabbawalla is someone who carries lunch. It translates from Marathi with dabba or ‘tiffin/box’ and walla or ‘man.’ Walla is used to reflect a profession. Milkwalla is the guy who sells/delivers milk, eggwalla sells eggs, flowerwalla sells flowers and so forth. It is a cool name for them.

Now, if you can imagine your sambo having your husmanskost delivered to your office in central Stockholm at noon everyday for the cost of pennies, you would go wild with happiness. In Mumbai, for $3-5 a month, your lunch will be delivered for real. Yes, that’s a the month price, not the day price.

And how does the system work? Simple, with 4000-5000 dabbawallas who transport at least 175,000 lunches a day. Because many dabbawallas are illiterate, they color code and mark with letters and numbers (they have to learn the bare minimum) that mark the destination train station, building, floor, name.

With so many dabbas picked up, dropped off, and picked up again, you would think the fail rate is high, but it’s not. Forbes magazine considers the delivery system to be of six sigma standard, that is, maximum efficiency of 99.99966% or better. That’s just a couple of messed up deliveries of 16 million; amazing efficiency coming from people who earn $125 a month in a country that never works on time.

Now, if only someone would deliver a hot lunch of färsk potatis and lax to my desk.

8 thoughts on “I Want a Dabbawalla to Deliver Lunch”

  1. I saw a documentary once on Discovery on this very topic, i was really impressed.
    These guys are very dedicated and the colour coding and numbering scheme they follow is surely one hell of a system.

  2. OK, I would love a Dabbawalla to deliver my lunch, but where do I find the Indian housewife to cook me traditional meals for lunch? I’m not big on Swedish husmanskost and would love a Dosai or some palak paneer on a regular basis.

  3. The dabawallas and auspicious wedding muhurat are always on time in India. Rest, we depend on God’s clock.

    When I worked at IBM Boca Raton, Florida, everyday at Noon, about 200 plus lunch tiffins/boxes were delivered to IBM campus by entrepreneur Indian lady to hungry Indians. Cost of nice warm, delicious meal was $4 only. Wow.

    Andrew, there is business opportunity here.
    And I know for sure 55 Swedes plus survivinginsweden would love to get Indian Dabba/tiffin everyday.

  4. I’d be happy if some enterprising sod could be bothered to deliver a pizza or lamb kebab, less than a mile away, during the 3 hours they actually bother to open!

  5. @Ravi – When I have my mid-life crisis, I’ll definitely toss this idea around. :) It could really well in almost any major city.

  6. Well, seems like a nice idea! How is the food delivery in Stockholm anyways? It doesn’t take much time on this island, being that it only 14 miles long LOL.

    Hey all! It has been awhile since I have been on the blog! Glad to see it is still going well. Hope everybody is having a fab week. Love, the Yank :P

  7. Deepsoul, for your sensible statement, I’ll say the uncommon sense thing: food delivery? what’s that?

    We use our feet to pick up food! There ain’t no delivery. Delivery is for wussies. :P

    Good to see you’re back! We missed you here. :)

    @survivinginsweden – We need to find an indian housewife! We should put up an ad for one.

  8. I would love a Dabbawalla to deliver lunch box , but where do I find the Indian housewife to cook me traditional meals for lunch? I’m not big on Swedish husmanskost and would love a Dosai or some palak paner on a regular basis.We use our feet to pick up food! There ain’t no delivery. Delivery is for wussies.

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