BACKGROUND: Recent developments in perioperative pathophysiology and care have documented evidence-based, multimodal rehabilitation (fast-track) to hasten recovery and to decrease morbidity and hospital stay for several major surgical procedures. The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of introducing fast-track principles for perioperative care in unselected patients undergoing open or laparoscopic liver resection. METHODS: This was a prospective study involving the first 100 consecutive patients who followed fast-track principles for liver resection. Catheters and drains were systematically removed early, and patients were mobilized and started eating and drinking from the day of surgery. An opioid-sparing multimodal pain treatment was given for the first week. Discharge criteria were: pain sufficiently controlled by oral analgesics alone, patient comfortable with discharge and no untreated complications. RESULTS: Median length of stay (LOS) for all patients was 5 days, with 2 days after laparoscopic versus 5 days following open resection (P <0·001). Median LOS after minor open resections (fewer than 3 segments) was 5 days versus 6 days for major resections (3 or more segments) (P <0·001). Simple right or left hemihepatectomies had a median LOS of 5 days. The readmission rate was 6·0 per cent and 30-day mortality was zero. CONCLUSION: Fast-track principles for perioperative care were introduced successfully and are safe after liver resection. Routine discharge 2 days after laparoscopic resection and 4-5 days after open liver resection may be feasible. Copyright © 2012 British Journal of Surgery Society Ltd. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.