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Keeping Mumbai's lunch deliverers on the road

Feb 27, 2022

About 125 years back, a Parsi banker wanted to have home cooked food in office and gave this responsibility to the first ever Dabbawala. Many people liked the idea and the demand for Dabba delivery soared. It was all informal and individual effort in the beginning, but visionary Mahadeo Havaji Bachche saw the opportunity and started the lunch delivery service in its present team-delivery format with 100 Dabbawalas. (Source:

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The Dabbawala lunch box delivery men of Mumbai are one of the city's enduring cultural institutions. But the coronavirus pandemic has dealt a crippling blow to business, with rising infection numbers bringing deliveries to a halt.

Some Dabbawalas have been forced to quit the job they love to find other work. But a major restaurant chain has reached out with support in an effort to preserve the beloved service.

Conspicuous in their white shirts and caps, Dabbawalas are a common sight during the day in Mumbai. They ride around on their bicycles, delivering home-cooked meals across the city.

The service was started in the early 1890s and since then has grown into one of the most expansive delivery systems in the world. Before the pandemic, more than 5,000 Dabbawalas delivered up to 200,000 lunches to workplaces every day.

But, like most businesses, the lunch box delivery service has been devastated by the coronavirus. Orders have plunged over the past year-and-a-half, and an estimated 90 percent of Dabbawalas are now unemployed.

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A new movement

Social Restaurant is a popular chain with restaurants throughout Mumbai. According to Mayank Bhatt,vcompany's head of business, the firm felt a sense of responsibility to help the Dabbawalas, who have long been the backbone of the city. The company recently started hiring Dabbawallas to handle deliveries.

According to the head, the 'Dabbawalla' community is a 130 year-old institution, and they are doing this day in, day out. Social restaurant thought no one is better than them to collaborate, to push direct orders to our consumers. Company is of the opinion that it was just a collaboration waiting to happen.

The company is making sure most of the profits go to the Dabbawalas themselves, using an app instead of organizing deliveries through third-party aggregators that would take a cut from every order. For some Dabbawalas, the app was difficult to get used to at first, but they were eventually able to get the hang of it.

Adding value

But the company isn’t motivated solely by a sense of solidarity. According to Bhatt, the Dabbawalas add significant value to the business.

They know the local areas very well, and touting the speed of the Dabbawalas' delivery. Soon his company won't be the only business using their services:A lot of other restaurants will join us and hire the Dabbawalas in the future.

Social Restaurant is planning to hire 50 additional Dabbawalas in the near future. Dabbawalas are glad that they can be back in the city, doing what they know and love. And the feeling is shared by residents throughout Mumbai, for whom the sight of the bicycles and trademark white uniform of the Dabbawalas is a sign that things are finally starting to return to normal.



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