Category Archives: Business

The Dabbawalas of Mumbai

I know a lot has been written on the legendary (the service was started around 125 years ago by the British), the dabbawala business continuously gets international coverage for its mammoth scale and unfaltering efficiency. The entire functioning of the process goes like this:

A network of (dabba)wallas picks up the boxes from customers’ homes or from people who cook lunches to order, then delivers the meals to a local railway station. The boxes are hand-sorted for delivery to different stations in central Mumbai, and then re-sorted and carried to their destinations. After lunch, the service reverses, and the empty boxes are delivered back home.

The secret of the system is in the colored codes painted on the side of the boxes, which tell the dabbawalas where the food comes from and which railway stations it must pass through on its way to a specific office in a specific building in downtown Mumbai.

A business that is still growing at the rate of 5 to 10 percent, it has received the Six Sigma award from the Forbes Magazine. Only those organizations get the Six Sigma award that can keep their defects at around 1 defect every 6,000,000 (six million) deliveries. This is amazing, and they don’t even get any special management training. Seth Godin in his post rightly says:

The dabbawalas know their customers. If they rotated the people around, it would never work. There’s trust, and along with the trust is responsibility. By creating a flat organization and building relationships, the system even survives monsoon season.

You can apply for a dabba service at

[tags]dabbawalas, mumbai, food supply, tiffin, six sigma[/tags]