A Study on Management Practices with Reference to
Mumbai Dabbawallahs


T.A. Louis Stevenson
Asst. Professor
Department of Business Administration
St. Joseph's College
Trichy, Tamil Nadu

Abstract : This paper deals with Mumbai Dabbawallahs, who deliver lunch boxes to their customers without any strike, or delay, without any tiff in box being misplaced. They render this  service for more than 100 years. This is an Empirical research about their management practices they follow years together, even though  they are semi-illiterate people. This paper throws light on the important aspects of their daily routine work and their healthy management   practices such as Organizational structure, Recruitment and Remuneration, Discipline, Logistics, Client relationship, and their laurels. The remuneration of all the workers varies from Rs.5000-Rs.6000.The data is collected from related articles, books, magazines, and newspapers.  


In the end of the 19th century Mumbai saw a huge influx of migrants from various parts of in and around Mumbai. The employees came without their families, and at that point of time, there was no concept of canteens. Since working hours were very early, so they were also not able to prepare food for themselves. As the people came from different parts of India their taste and preference were also different, but on the whole they wanted fresh home-cooked food. Mahadeo Havaji Bachche who himself was a migrant looking for job, identified the need and though of this mis-match in demand and supply as a good opportunity. He was able to foresee opportunity in the in the food servicing business. He recruited youth from his village, since his idea was new only few came forward. In 1890 with a clear aim of providing fresh home-cooked food at reasonable rates and according to their taste and preference. His army started marching with 20 dabbawallahs and monthly charges of Rs.2/- per customer, he targeted mainly textile mill worker. The organization became a charitable trust in 1956. The name was coined as Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association (NMTBSA).


The structure of the organization is well defined. They follow a flat structure with just three tiers. The governing Council consists of 13 members, the President, Vice-President, General Secretary, Treasurer, and 9 Directors, 5000 members. The Dabbawallahs are divided into 15-20 groups and each group is supervised by 4 experienced supervisors (Mukadam). Each individual dabbawallah has the work load of 30 Tiffin boxes. The organization is a decentralized one each member is considered to be the shareholders. Here no one is a employer and no one is an employee.

Recruitment and Remuneration

Dabbawallahs are the people who come from the areas of Rajgurunagar, Akola, Junnar and Maashi. The belong to a particular community called Malva. There is a historic record that these people were the descendants of soldiers of the legendary Maharshtrian warrior King Shivaji. In today's trend recruiters follow referral of employee in recruitment process but the dabbawallahs have followed in the past itself. They believe in employing people from their own community. When there is vacancy the elders recommend a relative from their village. Education till standard seven is the minimum requirement to be employed in this organization. Apart from commitment and dedication, each dabbawallah has to bring some minimum capital with him. (Two bicycles, a wooden crate, one white cotton kurta- pyjama, one Gandhi cap).

The Remuneration to the Dabbawallah varies from Rs.5000 to Rs.6000 per month. Around 2,00,000 Tiffin's gets handled n a daily basis. The service charge varies from Rs.150 to Rs.300 according to distance and collection time.

The service charge is collected in the first week of every month and the collected amount is given to Mukadam (supervisor) on the first Sunday. The mukadam then divides the money equally among members of that group. An individual dabbawallah cannot handle more than 30-35 customers, each Tiffin box weighs around 2kgs, that is their benchmark and each group; tries to achieve. Every dabbawallah contributes Rs.15 per month to the association. The amount is used for community development, loans and marriages halls at concessionary rates.


The Dabbwallahs have to wear white Gandhi cap and no alcohol drinking during the business hours. They should wear their identity cards. They should attend the meeting that is held in the office. Each dabbawallah has to stick to their timings. Dabbwallahs never smoke nor drink. There are only two women Dabbawallahs, so there are no separate rules for them


Logistics is happening 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 52 weeks a year. Logistics competency is achieved by coordinating, the network design, information, transpiration, inventory, and warehousing. The coding is done for the Tiffin boxes for the easy understanding of the dabbawallahs.

For Example: VLP 9E12 E 3


VILE PARLE (suburb in Mumbai)


Code for Dabbawallahs at destination


Express Towers (building name)


Floor No


Code for dabbawalla s at residential station


Code for destination station

The dabbawallah load the wooden crate filled with Tiffin's on to the luggage or goods compartment in train. The reason because it will be easy for them to load and unload the carets from the train. The reason because it will be easy for them to load and unload the carets from the train. A special care is provided in the areas where the customers are more, this special carte carries 150 tiffins and its drove by 3 to 4 dabbawallahs. The entire system depends on teamwork and meticulous timing. A single Tiffin box could change three to four hands in course of it daily journey.

The timings of the dabbawallahs are as follows:

9.00am to 10.00am

Collection of tiffin boxes
Fro example: 4 x 20 x 40 = 3200 tiffin boxes.
(groups x dabbawallahs x customers)

10.00am to 11.20am

The journey time towards the destination.

11.20am to 12.30pm

The Tiffin boxes reaches the customer without delay.

1.15pm to 2.00pm

The empty Tiffin boxes are collected from the customers.

2.00pm to 2.30pm

Group members meet for the segregations per the destination

2.30am to 4.00pm

Return journey, final sorting and dispatch takes place at this time

Client relationship

The order of the day is to gives good service to customers. This ideology has been followed by the dabbawalla system. The main customers for this system are managers, owners of small scale industry, mill workers, students, government staff etc. to satisfy the customers a meeting is held every month, ignorer to check their level the services. The meeting conducted on the 15th of every month in their officered those who attend the meeting have to pay Rs. 100 to the association in order eliminate the petty cases, which helps in the quality improvement of the system. If a Tiffin box is lost or stolen then a customer can deduct money from the particular  individual who is found guilty after aninvestgation. If a dabbawalla is found go give a bad series then that person will be replaced by another.

Adding feather to hat

Apart from their work the dabbwallahs are invited to give lectures in management colleges, multinational organizations & quasi government companies.

   1. Symbiosis management school pune.
   2. Global business school Nagpur.
   3. National stock exchange.
   4. GE money servicing Hyderabad.
   5. Community of cooked food Italy.
   6. University of Nebraska.
   7. IIT Bombay, pune , Delhi.
   8. IMM luck now, Bangalore Kolkata.
   9. Mahindra  Mahindra Mumbai

* The BBC has produced a documentary on dabbwallahs
* Prince Charles during his visit to India (2005) met them, which is very unusual.
* They have entered into the lens of Ripley's believe it or not.
* They have their footprint in The Guinness book of records.
* These are some the laurels being brought by their team work.


The dabbawallahs are updating their knowledge today in order to fit into the era of Globalization, Privatization, and liberalization, so they have started learning English under the guidance of Prof. YASHWANTARO CHAVAN from Open University of Maharashtra, classes are conducted only on Sundays. And their defect rate is 1 in 6 million. They practice the management concepts and principles which was adopted by continuous  practice without going to Business Schools.Hence they are called as MANAGEMENT GURUS.


1. Nasreen Taher ,2007," Logistics and Supply chain management, A case of Mumbai dabbawallahs.",ICFAI Press University.

2. Pandit shrinivas second edition Reprint 2007, "Lessons for building lasting success based on values Dabbawallahs",Tata McgrawHill.

3. Dr.S.N. Soundrarajan & Shanthi Nachippan,2010,"Is Stephen R. Covey Influenced by Thirukural" research article, indianmba.com.

4. WWW.MyDabbawallha.com

5. www.Indianmba.com

6. The Hindu news paper dated 14th sept 2010

T.A. Louis Stevenson
Asst. Professor
Department of Business Administration
St. Joseph's College
Trichy, Tamil Nadu

Source: E-mail July 15, 2013


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