| ||company: Dabbawallah|
what: ‘Dabba’ translates as lunch ‘box’ or ‘tiffin carrier’; ‘wallah’ means a ‘man’. Middle-class suburban housewives prepare 3-tiered lunch boxes known as dabbas for their husbands, hard at work in the city’s offices. The meal is delivered direct to the workplace by one of the city’s devoted dabbawallahs. This system is one of the oldest basic-life services in town (dating almost 100 years of activity). This lunch-time home to office food delivery by dabbawallahs was originated by the military efficiency system of the British Raj.
where: Mumbay, India. There are no dabbawallahs anywhere else in India (or the world), and they are extremely proud of their work.
how: every day, a crew of about 5.000 dabbawallahs, disseminated from the suburbs to the centre of Mumbay, deal with more than 150.000 lunch boxes.
The meal includes a main dish, a side dish, rice or chappatis, and pickles. The dabbawallahs can’t read but use an ingenious system of codes, colours and symbols to distinguish between the 30 dabbas they deliver on a daily basis. The task is completed in just two hours, from midday to 2pm, and at 2 o’clock the whole process is reversed and each box is returned to its rightful home, making no mistakes. It’s a miracle of organisation and efficiency.
price: a dabbawallah charges 200 rupees ($4) per client per month and earns about 2,000 rupees ($40) per month.
special features: this is a very good example of keeping alive local cultures and food traditions. The success of the service is granted by the high-level vs. low-tech organisational structure and the ensuing satisfaction of customers. It represents an excellent alternative solution to the on-going increase of fast food and western-tendency restaurants in town, which threaten local food habits and flatten the many different eating cultures of India.