Today, this innovative yet simple food delivery system is still as operative and just as popular as it was back then, but only in Mumbai.
The Dabbawala is a delivery person who collects hot lunches from resident cooks and delivers the meals to various work places using bicycles or the train. The men use the bikes to balance numerous lunch containers or tiffins (tin lunch boxes with different compartments) and deliver a hot home-cooked meal to the people of Mumbai, using an alpha numeric code that sorts out which meals are going where.
This mode of food delivery does not require any IT infrastructure which is contradictory to how it works in U.S or Europe or even here in Kenya. While food delivery is rapidly gaining popularity in the Country’s capital Nairobi, technology plays an intrinsic part of the entire process, where orders are transmitted from the restaurant to the rider using an automated system. But in Mumbai, the dubbawallas have mastered their craft and the alpha numeric code is something that they are so familiar with that they are known to confidently claim how the codes are ‘imprinted in their minds’.
Another comparison to draw from these two delivery systems is that the people of Mumbai seem to have a preference for home cooked meals for reasons such as cost as well as health. And while there is the option to order a healthy meal through online delivery, fast food always seems to reign as the first choice for many city dwellers whose love for pizza, burgers and fried chicken has seen the entry of International Fast food joints make their mark here in the city.
However urban online food delivery may be here or other parts of the world, it would appear that the dubbawallas are so famous in their service that they have drawn International interest from Fedex, one of the worlds most recognized courier delivery services as well as case studies from Harvard Business school. With that said, there can be no doubt that even the most sophisticated technology could learn something from the simplicity that the dabbawalas have to offer.