The Marvelous Efficiency Of Dabbawallahas

Mumbai, India is one of the world's biggest and busiest cities. The pace of life is so fast, even eating can be a challenge. But everyday, thousands of people have lunch their way, thanks to a company that's so good, even Americans are taking notice.
Talk about fast food. With their signature white caps, they're as much of a lunchtime staple in Mumbai as the curry they carry.

They're called dabbawallahas, reports CBS News correspondent Seth Doane. Rough translation: "lunch box men." A vestige of colonial days, and only possible in a country where labor is cheap, 5,000 dabbawallahas deliver home cooked meals every day - all for less than $10 a month.

The dabbawallahas pick up your lunch at home and deliver it to the office. They're on time, every time. And they don't slow down for curious reporters, Doane found out.

"Turns out it's just not possible to keep up with the dabbawallahas while in a vehicle," Doane said. "So I will be running after the dabbawallahas. On average, each dabbawallaha travels 86 miles a day. We followed 23-year-old Vishnu, or at least tried to."

The little metal lunch boxes are relabeled and rearranged, according to pickup and drop-off points. A lunch might change hands four times before it reaches its destination. With a predominantly illiterate workforce, it's all done with colors and codes.

Strangely enough, the intricate balancing act works. The dabbawallahas deliver about a million meals a week and average only about four mistakes a month. Forbes magazine gives them a 99.999% accuracy rating, top-notch business schools who have studied the system say the dabbawallahas could teach westerners a thing or two.

Their secrets, they say, are abandoning bad customers, and pricing enthusiasm over experience, Doane reports.

"And I add one - endurance helps, too," Doane said.