Mumbai’s popular office lunch delivery system collaborates with restaurants to serve the city, as part of India’s move to ‘order direct’
Mumbai’s well-loved dabbawalas are back in action. Only this time, instead of delivering home cooked lunches to office goers, their bicycles are loaded with cheeseburgers, tiramisu and frappes.
The many lockdowns since March 2020, to combat COVID-19, combined with most people working from home, had left them out of work.
A unique lunch box delivery system, the network transports freshly cooked meals from homes to offices in Mumbai, via bicycles and trains. What makes the dabbawalas special is the fact that the empty boxes are returned in the afternoon, and despite serving 2,00,000 people with a network of about 5,000 mistakes are rare.
Recently, Mumbai-based Impresario Handmade Restaurants launched a collaboration with Mumbai’s dabbawalas, recruiting them as delivery partners to facilitate direct ordering from restaurants. The company has 57 restaurants across 16 cities across the country, including like SOCIAL, Smoke House Deli and Salt Water Cafe in (a total of 20) Mumbai.
In the first week of its pilot project, about 30 dabbawalas were engaged to make between 600 and 1,000 deliveries every day from the group’s restaurants in the Lower Parel, Bandra (West), and BKC (Bandra Kurla Complex) areas.
‘A symbiotic partnership’
On the phone from Mumbai, Riyaaz Amlani, CEO & MD Impresario Handmade Restaurants says, “Dabbawalas are the original backbone of Mumbai’s food delivery system. The food industry has now come together with the dabbawalas to form a symbiotic partnership to empower and enable each other over the next few months. The association will roll out more phases over the next few months, each employing more dabbawalas.”
Ulhas Muke, President, Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Charity Trust, a part of the Mumbai Dabbawala Association, says, “When the first lockdown was introduced, it was the toughest time we’ve ever faced; our members were left with little to no money in their bank accounts. Although there are many restaurants and hotel chains in our city, in the past we’ve only catered to office-goers at their workplace. Now that work from home has become the norm, it’s important to go where the customer is.”
With a couple of days of training, and a little hand-holding with regards to technology, they were ready to roll. “Initially they were not too eager to use technology, they wanted to use their own traditional network system. However, with a little convincing, they were open to using Impresario’s tech-enabled platform in partnership with DotPe (a commerce and payment platform),” adds Amlani.
This partnership enables customers to connect and order directly from restaurants instead of being dependent on aggregators. The National Restaurants Association of India is actively advocating direct orders to empower the food industry and develop better relationships with customers. “This also saves on prohibitive commissions being paid out to the aggregators. We can pass on these savings to our customers ordering directly,” says Riyaaz.
Not being able to use the railway system during lockdown was a concern. “But we mustn’t forget that the dabbawalas are avid cyclists and a few of them also have motorcycles,” adds Riyaaz. “We decided on trying Mumbai’s hotspots to see the response. We are all pleased. We have also extended the delivery proposal to other restaurants and everyone is quite eager to get onto it.”