Dabbawala Historical Background

Published: 2017-11-16 10:23:52
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Introduction

A dabbawala is a person in India who carries and delivers fresh home-made food in lunch boxes to office workers in the metropolitan area of Mumbai and other cities. The dabbawalas were formerly known as the Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association (MTBSA) but most people refer to them as simply dabbawalas. The concept itself began when India was still a colony of Britain. At first, the service mainly catered to British colonials who did not like the local Indian cuisine and therefore, set up a service that would bring food from their homes straight to their offices (Mallik et al., 2007). Later, prominent Indian businesspersons working in Mumbai also began to have home-cooked food delivered to their offices. The dabbas (lunchboxes) at the time were ferried using horse-drawn trams each carrying 100 dabbas for officers in the Fort area of Mumbai. Today, the dabbawala service caters to executives in Mumbai who have become the main customers. The organization’s operations are so efficient that even Prince Charles acknowledged them in a trip to India and academic institutions regularly invite dabbawala representatives to give talks complementing or enhancing their academic content.

The main reason for the dabbawala’s success is the preference of Indians in having full course meals during lunch necessitating careful preparation. Office workers in Mumbai typically leave home at 7 a.m. and usually come back later than 7 pm (Percot et al., 2005). Most of them make the daily commute from Mumbai’s suburbs to Mumbai’s commercial area. Leaving early enables the workers to get to work on time to beat the packed railway networks at peak hours. The rush is so bad that some commuters do not have spaces to even stand properly in the trains, which is still preferable to braving the jam-packed traffic on the roads (Roncaglia et al., 2013). Therefore, having a partner or cook wake up earlier than the office worker to prepare the food is not a feasible option as the workers often have one hand occupied with a briefcase and additional luggage everyday would be cumbersome. Moreover, most of the commuters cannot afford to eat out every day due to financial constraints of dining in a metropolitan area and offices often don’t have cafeteria or canteen services for the employees. Eating street food consistently would be unhealthy while the diversity of the Indian cuisine and tastes makes it difficult to cater to every client’s specific needs. Thus, the dabbawalas provide a much-needed service at a very low cost of approximately Rs 200-500 ($7-$10) per month for each of their 200,000 plus clients (Thomke et al., 2010). The fees depend on the delivery location and required collection time.  

2.4.1 Approach and Attitude

A lunchbox’s journey from a kitchen to the consumer typically changes hands between three to twelve deliverymen. A dabbawala begins his working day at 9 a.m. where he spends approximately an hour collecting the dabbas in a certain neighborhood where he is assigned a set of home. The dabbawala will then either use a bicycle or walk to collect the lunchboxes. By the time he arrives, the houses are expected to have the boxes ready where the dabbawala is instructed to leave clients that may delay their overall schedule. The tiffins are then transported to the nearest railway station where other dabbawalas from the area also deliver their dabbas (Ravichandran et al., 2005). The dabbas at the station are then sorted by their desired destination using an elaborate and detailed code process that facilitates easy sorting.

2.4.2 Code of Conduct

An organization’s code of conduct is a set of rules that define the social rules and the responsibilities of all individuals within an organization. It also outlines proper practices for all business transactions including honor, religious laws, moral codes, and business ethics (Erwin, 2011, et al.p.535). Goetsch et al. (2014) define the organizational code of conduct as the ‘principles, standards, values, and rules of behavior that guide the actions of an organization in a way that contributes to the achievement of the organizational goals. A recent study by consulting firm LRN concluded that approximately 73% of employees in an organization with a written code of conduct believe that it helps improve the workplace (LRN et al., 2006). An organizational code of conduct is also important in creating company values and beliefs. Employees tend to look upon their superiors to specify the beliefs and values that outline the organization’s mission and philosophy (Scott et al., 2013). Some employees will follow the code while others may test its limit, which necessitates meting out consequences for regular offenders. However, it is important to note that employees cannot follow vague guidelines and they have to be specific. Moreover, creating an organizational code of conduct is a good team building activity as it gets the employees thinking about what is important for the business and how present actions can influence the long-term survival of the business.

For the dabbawalas, each of the members is expected to be proficient in several business operations, which increases redundancy and reduces the chances for failure of the service model. Having employees dress in clear coded dabbawala dress also helps them to navigate the packed streets of Mumbai, as the dabbawalas are a symbol of efficiency and command respect even among non-clients. The dabbawalas are expected to be courteous to their clients.

sheldon

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