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10 million meals delivered annually - Dabbawala Lunch Box

Having heard, seen on TV and read about the dabbawala lunch box delivery system, this was of interest to me to see just a small part of it in action ….

Lunch box

  • 4,500 dabbawala now work in Mumbai.
  • 10 million meals delivered a year with a .001% error rate.
  • 20 boxes can be delivered at once on the bicycles.
  • Cost a person 800 rupees / NZ$16.90 / US$12.40 a month for delivery only.
  • Or 2,400 rupees / NZ$50.60 / US$37.20 to include a lunch.
  • The dabbawala earns 8,000 – 9,000 rupees / NZ$170 – 190 / US$120 – 140 a month.

How does it all work? Best leaving it to Mr Wikipedia and the Independent newspaper article…

The dabbawalas (also spelled dabbawallas or dabbawallahs, called tiffin wallahs in older sources) constitute a lunchbox delivery and return system that delivers hot lunches from homes and restaurants to people at work in India, especially in Mumbai. The lunchboxes are picked up in the late morning, delivered predominantly using bicycles and railway trains, and returned empty in the afternoon. They are also used by meal suppliers in Mumbai, who pay them to ferry lunchboxes with ready-cooked meals from central kitchens to customers and back. The 2013 Bollywood film The Lunchbox is based on the dabbawala service.

In 1890 Bombay, Mahadeo Havaji Bachche started a lunch delivery service with about a hundred men. In 1930, he informally attempted to unionize the dabbawallas. Later, a charitable trust was registered in 1956 under the name of Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Trust. The commercial arm of this trust was registered in 1968 as Mumbai Tiffin Box Supplier's Association.

When literally translated, the word "dabbawala" means "one who carries a box". "Dabba" means a box (usually a cylindrical tin or aluminium container) from Persian: دَبّه‎, while "wala" is an agentive suffix, denoting a doer or holder of the preceding word. The closest meaning of the dabbawala in English would be the "tiffin box delivery man".

Lunch boxes are marked in several ways:
1. Abbreviations for collection points
2. Colour code for starting station
3. Number for destination station
4. Markings for handling dabbawala at destination, building and floor.

A colour-coding system identifies the destination and recipient. Each dabbawala is required to contribute a minimum capital in kind, in the form of two bicycles, a wooden crate for the tiffins, white cotton kurta-pyjamas, and the white Gandhi cap( topi). Each month there is a division of the earnings of each unit. Fines are imposed for alcohol, tobacco, being out of uniform, and absenteeism.

A collecting dabbawala, usually on bicycle, collects dabbas either from a worker's home or from the dabba makers. As many of the carriers are of limited literacy (the average literacy of Dabbawallahs is that of 8th grade), the dabbas (boxes) have some sort of distinguishing mark on them, such as a colour or group of symbols.

The dabbawala then takes them to a sorting place, where he and other collecting dabbawalas sort the lunch boxes into groups. The grouped boxes are put in the coaches of trains, with markings to identify the destination of the box (usually there is a designated car for the boxes). The markings include the railway station to unload the boxes and the destination building delivery address. Some modern infrastructure improvements such as the Navi Mumbai Metro are not used in the supply chain, as cabins do not have the capacity for hundreds of tiffins.

At each station, boxes are handed over to a local dabbawala, who delivers them. The empty boxes are collected after lunch or the next day and sent back to the respective houses. The dabbawalas also allow for delivery requests through SMS.

Most tiffin-wallahs are related to each other, belong to the Varkari sect of Maharashtra, and come from the same small village near Pune. Tiffin distribution is suspended for five days each March as the tiffin-wallahs go home for the annual village festival.

Each dabbawala, regardless of role, is paid around 8,000 rupees per month (about US$131 in 2014). Between 175,000 and 200,000 lunch boxes are moved each day by 4,500 to 5,000 dabbawalas. Tiffin-wallahs are self-employed. The union initiation fee is 30,000 rupees, which guarantees a 5,000-rupee monthly income and a job for life. The 150 rupee a month fee provides for delivery six days a week.

It is frequently claimed that dabbawalas make less than one mistake in every six million deliveries; however, this is only an estimation. Thanks Mr Wikipedia
































Brazilian Artist Eduardo Kobra Mural Art On The Churchgate Railway Station Building

Brazilian Artist Eduardo Kobra Mural Art On The Churchgate Railway Station Building

What is life as a dabbawala like? Perhaps this article will provide some insight:


Will it survive?



I hope so.

Here are some more images from Dr “Google”:


Dabbawallah Lunch

Lunch for me at the neighbouring park was a delivered tiffin meal: bread, poppadum, rice curry and vegetables.




Now 12.30 pm / 12:30 so it was time to head back the short distance towards the hotel in Colaba.





Stopped for a refreshing freshly squeezed sugar cane juice.


With time before my next tour, a wander around the local neighbourhood.


Walked by Garden Hotel where I was going to stay simply to see where it was.


To head back to my hotel had to walk through the Colaba Causeway Market. Progress was slow with the stalls on the narrow foot path leaving little room for shoppers but hey, that’s a market and adds to the experience.…

I had read about Leopold's Cafe and Cafe Mondegar, two well-known Mumbai hangouts.


Looked into Cafe Mondegar which is opposite my hotel and to my surprise saw Andrea and Marina sitting having their lunch. So I joined them for a drink. Talk about a small world.

Plus pick up some “liquid” to chill down for the hotel room fridge from the large supermarket just 50 metres from the hotel that I found quite by chance before heading off around the corner to the Regal Cinema for the meeting point of my next tour.


Posted by bruceontour 14:29 Archived in India

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