A dabbawala is a person in India, most commonly in Mumbai, who is part of a delivery system that collects hot food in lunch boxes from the residences of workers in the late morning, delivers the lunches to the workplace utilizing various modes of transport, predominantly bicycles and the railway trains, and returns the empty boxes to the customer’s residence that afternoon. They are also made use of by prominent meal suppliers in Mumbai where they ferry ready, cooked meals from central kitchens to the customers and back.A number of work-from-home women also supply such home-cooked meals, delivering through the dabbawala network.
In 1890 Bombay, Mahadeo Bhavaji Bachche started a lunch delivery service with about a hundred men. In 1930, he informally attempted to unionize the dabbawalas. 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.
The service is almost always uninterrupted, even on the days of severe weather such as monsoons. The local dabbawalas and population know each other well, and often form bonds of trust. Dabbawalas are generally well accustomed to the local areas they cater to, and use shortcuts and other low-profile routes to deliver their goods on time.
It is frequently claimed that dabbawalas make less than one mistake in every six million deliveries.
The ABC has produced a documentary on dabbawalas and Prince Charles visited them during his visit to India; he had to fit in with their schedule, since their timing was too precise to permit any flexibility. Charles also invited them to his wedding with Camilla Parker Bowles in London on 9 April 2005. Owing to the tremendous publicity, some of the dabbawalas were invited to give guest lectures in some of the top business schools of India, which is very unusual.