Mumbai Dabbawals


The ITM Institute conducted a student exchange program in collaboration with Jaipuria Institute of  Management Lucknow. On 22nd Feb 2023 the inaugural of this program started and it began with the  Guest session conducted by Mr Raghunath D. Medge (President of Mumbai Dabbawalas) to provide  insights into their exceptional supply chain management practices. The seminar was aimed at  providing the students with an understanding of the Dabbawalas' unique delivery system and the  lessons that could be learned from it. 

The Mumbai Dabbawalas are a remarkable organization that has been serving the people of Mumbai  for over a century. They deliver over 200,000 lunches every day from the homes of workers to their  workplaces with a remarkable accuracy rate of 99.99%. They have been able to achieve this level of  efficiency due to their unique supply chain management practices, which have become a subject of  study for management experts worldwide.  

So it all started with the felicitation of the guest by Dir. Lakshmi Mohan (Director of ITM Institute)  and then the guest session initiated with a brief introduction of the Mumbai Dabbawalas with their  achievements, Awards & Recognition etc. Then the stage was set for the guest to deliver the experience  into the exceptional supply chain management practices of the Mumbai Dabbawalas.    


Around 127 years ago, a Parsi banker requested to enjoy a home-cooked lunch in his office, which is  how Bombay Dabbawala's story began. He offered the first Dabbawala with this opportunity, which  led to the creation of an exceptional home-cooked lunch delivery service in India's financial capital.  The majority of the Dabbwalas are sprung from Chatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj's troops. Tukaram V.  Gadade came up with the idea for this system, which started in Girgaon at the pitiful cost of 2 aanas.  Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Trust was the name of a charitable trust that was registered in  1956. Bombay Tiffin Box Supplier's Association was registered as the trust's business arm in 1968.  There are presently more than 5000 Dabbawalas catering 200,000 people.  

The Mumbai Dabbawala are known widely over the world for their frugal innovation, dedication,  reliability, rigorous adherence to processes & standards and mastery in logistics. It is served as an  outstanding example of a six sigma certified organization. The semiliterate workforce has achieved  this performance in an eco-friendly way and without any use of technology.    


The guest session was enlightening, and the students gained valuable insights into the exceptional  supply chain management practices of the Mumbai Dabbawalas. The following are the key takeaways  from the session:  

1. Importance of simplicity in operations  

2. Maintaining a culture of punctuality and teamwork  

3. Understanding the importance of customer satisfaction  

4. Efficient tracking systems and quality control measures  

5. The importance of employee training and development    

Understanding each take away:  

[1] Importance of simplicity in operations: They had simple operations based on the principles of  punctuality, teamwork, and simplicity. Despite the challenges of Mumbai's traffic and weather, they  have been able to maintain a high level of efficiency and customer satisfaction. Basically Zero % fuel  – No Pollution, Zero % investment, Zero % modern tech., Zero % Disputes, 99.99% performance &  100 % Customers Care & Satisfaction.  

“Customer is God” ,“Work is Worship” & “Anna Daan is Maha Daan”(Donating food is the best  charity) is what makes dabbawalas going may it be in Hot Summers, Heavy Monsoon & Chilled  Winters.    

Lastly, Dabbawalas invented a very logical and easy to understand coding and distribution system. A  Distribution System Serving 2 lakh customers daily with only 1 error in every 16 million deliveries,  of course should be backed by strong supply chain principles. Dabbawalas have a very unique system  of tiffin box tracking and delivery which is backed by the topography and public transport of Mumbai. 

[2] Maintaining a culture of punctuality and teamwork: The Dabbawalas are known for their  punctuality and accuracy in delivering the lunchboxes. They understand the importance of delivering  the lunchboxes on time, as the workers rely on them for their meals. Also some strict rules are set for  the employees like no alcohol drinking during business hours, wearing white cap during business  hours, carry identity cards, no leave without prior notice etc. Similarly talking about their teamwork  its exceptional working in a team that consist of around 20-25 members. Each team is responsible for  delivering the lunchboxes in a particular area of Mumbai. The members of the team work together to  ensure that the lunchboxes are collected, sorted, and delivered accurately and on time. They share the  workload and help each other whenever needed. The Dabbawalas believe that teamwork is the key to  their success, and they make sure that all members of the team work in harmony.    

[3] Understanding the importance of customer satisfaction: Believing in the philosophy of Work  is Worship & most of the Dabbawalas are from Varakari Community which are majorly (85%)  illiterate but have strong sense of devotion towards their work make it a believe that customer is god  & we have to serve them. So here are some basic factors that they use to achieve customer satisfaction:  On-time delivery, personalized service by knowing their customers preferences such as their dietary  restrictions or favourite dishes, prioritize customer service and are responsive to their customer’s  needs, pay attention to even the smallest details, involvement in various community service projects  and initiatives, which helps build a positive image of their service in the community.    

[4] Efficient tracking systems and quality control measures: Mumbai dabbawalas have a simple  yet timed mode of transportation based on it tracking & ensuring quality makes a difficult part but  then to using following measures they ensures that efficient delivery with right quality is been  delivered.  

  • Colour Coding System: Use of a colour code system to identify and sort lunchboxes. Each  lunchbox is marked with a unique colour code that indicates the destination and the recipient. 
  • Sorting and Grouping: The lunchboxes are sorted and grouped according to their colour codes  at various intermediate stations throughout the delivery process. This ensures that the lunchboxes  are organized and delivered efficiently.
  • Group Leaders (Mukadams): The Mumbai Dabbawalas have a system of group leaders known  as Mukadams who oversee the delivery process and ensure that each lunchbox is delivered to the  correct recipient.
  • Regular Quality Checks: Conducting regular quality checks helps to ensure that the lunchboxes  are delivered on time and to the correct recipients. They also inspect the lunchboxes for any  damages or defects to maintain the quality of the service. Customer Feedback: The Mumbai Dabbawalas collect customer feedback to identify areas for  improvement and to ensure that their customers are satisfied with the service. This feedback is  used to improve the delivery process and maintain the high standards of quality and efficiency.    

[5] Importance of Employee Training & Development: Mumbai dabbawalas have around 5000  employee strength with avg. literacy rate of 8th grade pass out but then to achieving 99.99% of accuracy  makes it impossible to believe these is because of training based on the circumstances or the  availability of resources to deliver the lunchboxes. Getting known to the routes, proper training of  colour coding and distribution cycle which are jotted in a laymen’s language make it possible to gain  that accuracy & also hard work and punctuality matters the most in this work. With these skills earning  up to 10,000 – 15,000 /- per. Month is satisfactory and providing one month’s extra payment from  customers during Diwali make employees motivated in their work.    

So these were the key takeaways that we experience during the guest session which were delivered by  Mr. Raghunath Medge. He also mentioned some important awards and achievements that stunned the  students they are:  

  • In 1998, Forbes Global Magazine conducted a quality assurance study on their operations and gave  them a six sigma efficiency rating of 99.99999. This put them in the list of Six Sigma Certified  Companies like Motorala, GE, etc. They made 1 error in 16 million deliveries.  
  • In 2005, Prince Charles had visited Dabbawalas during his visit to India. He had to fit in their  schedule to meet them so that their deliveries do not get affected.
  • In 2007, The New York Times reported that the services of Mumbai Dabbawalas grow at the rate  of 10% per year.
  • ISO 9001:2000 certified by Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand for accuracy
  • Richard Branson travelled with them and actually delivered a tiffin to his own employees at  Virgin, Mumbai with them    


After conducting a guest session with the Mumbai Dabbawalas, it can be concluded that their unique  business model is based on a strong system of organization, teamwork, and dedication. The  dabbawalas' commitment to timely and efficient delivery of lunches to their customers is remarkable  and serves as an excellent case study for businesses looking to improve their own organizational and  operational strategies. Overall, the guest session was informative and provided valuable insights into  the workings of a successful and sustainable business model.