I've seen people bring in cake and other confectionery, is there an standard expectation when doing so, or do I just bring in the cake and send a mass email? How can I find out my company's stance?
Usually just bring it in and place it in the break room, then send an email/tell your coworkers "hey guys I brought in some cake/cookies/snacks, feel free to have some."
I would also add a note (maybe put a post-it by the food or include it in the email) about any nut allergies.
At my old workplace, people used to bring in doughnuts and walk up to everyone with the box and ask if they wanted some. I said no (because of diet) and they always responded with "come onnn live a little". That was a bit annoying, don't do that. Just leave the box there and if people want it they'll take it, and it avoids the awkwardness of people saying no.
We do this on a regular basis: Montreal bagels, cookies (my specialty at Christmas), cake, cupcakes, frozen pops.
We have a number of different ethnicity in the office and we get different ethnic food stuff once in a while.
The only thing that I can think of, is that if someone in the office is very allergic to something, try not the bring something with that ingredient ( for example peanuts), better be safe than really sorry.
Make certain to clean after yourself (if you leave the box in the communal kitchen). Make certain that it is easy to eat (especially if your office does not have cutlery or plates)
Make certain that you have enough for everyone (or close to). Make certain that if it is a cake, that you cut it yourself to have a nice portion size for everyone.
If you office has a large number of employees, maybe you can limit yourself to your "team".
Either let it be anonymous (with a post-it note saying what it is) or if your company allow it, send an email.
Most important: It should not be a financial burden on you. It should not be expected that everyone should do it (100% on a voluntary basis) It should not interfere with normal office activities.
We do this at least once a month to celebrate that we as a team completed our tasks. I usually bring home made cakes and coffee for the entire office and leave somewhere where I know everyone will see it (I work at a small office so we don’t have a break room).
Sometimes we get more organized and have breakfast and/or lunch together but cake and coffee are the most common thing.
Still there are some companies that disallow this sort of thing for reasons that I still don’t understand. You should always consult HR about the company standard about this sort of thing.
If you're bringing in something like a box of donuts or store-brought muffins/pastries for your team, no email is necessary.
If you do know you'll be bringing something in, send out an email to your co-workers, not the entire company, to let them know what you plan to bring in and when (don't send a company-wide email, only your co-workers that you plan on sharing with need to know).
Letting them know you plan to bring in something like a breakfast pastry a day before can help them plan their own morning routine around knowing you'll have something for them to eat when they get in - it's not necessary, but it's nice for those who like to plan things out.
You don't have to let them know - spontaneous gifts of pastries are nice too - but if you do let them know, don't cancel those plans without any warning, or you'll be disappointing your co-workers.
Do not send a mass email. If you do, everyone will expect you to bring enough food for everyone, and in big companies this can be a burden (not only economically), while in smaller companies it's pretty pointless, since everyone will notice once you walk in anyway.
Do not warn people beforehand anyway, since the surprise factor will make this even more pleasant. Sure, someone might miss it, someone might have to eat a second breakfast, but still I believe that the surprise factor for those who get it outweighs the chance of someone partly missing it. Especially since it's not a one-of-a-kind event, hopefully.
Whether you send a "mass email" or not depends a lot on the size of the company you work for. If there's only 10 of you, that might make sense. If there are hundreds of people in the company, restrict it to your own department/project (and if you want to invite your friends from other departments/projects do that in a separate email.) The alternative is to leave it in the kitchen with a note explaining what your are celebrating, or on a filing cabinet near your desk.
Really, this is entirely dependent on the culture in your company / department, not something we can answer here. Is it the norm to bring cakes for birthdays? or doughnuts every friday? Bear in mind also that the boss's view may differ from your colleagues' views. One company I worked for had a fantastic culture of socializing (and bringing food in for birthdays) which often took up an hour or more a day. When things got tighter (shortly before redundancies came around) the management put a stop to all that.