BACKGROUND & AIMS: Clinical care of patients undergoing colonic surgery differs between hospitals and countries. In addition, there is considerable variation in rates of recovery and length of hospital stay following major abdominal surgery. There is a need to develop a consensus on key elements of perioperative care for inclusion in enhanced recovery programmes so that these can be widely adopted and refined further in future clinical trials. METHODS: Medline database was searched for all clinical studies/trials relating to enhanced recovery after colorectal resection. Relevant papers from the reference lists of these articles and from the authors' personal collections were also reviewed. A combination of evidence-based and consensus methodology was used to develop the resulting enhanced recovery after surgery (ERAS) clinical care protocol. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: Within traditional perioperative practice there is considerable evidence supporting a range of manoeuvres which, in isolation, may improve individual aspects of recovery after colonic surgery. The present manuscript reviews these issues in detail. There is also growing evidence that an integrated multimodal approach to perioperative care can result in an overall enhancement of recovery. However, effects on major morbidity and mortality remain to be determined. A protocol is presented which is in current use by the ERAS Group and may provide a standard of care against which either current or future novel elements of an enhanced recovery approach can be tested for their effect on outcome.