Question: Is it necessary to recite a berachah before eating fruit at the end of a meal? I’ve seen different people do different things.
Answer: It is vital to note that the assumption that eating fruit at the end of a meal requires a berachah is not necessarily correct.
The Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chayim 5, based on the Mechaber) provides the following brief, but yet finely honed, assessment of this topic: In ancient times people did not eat at one large table. Rather, in front of each person was a small table (perhaps, comparable to a TV snack table). Prior to Birkat HaMazon, the main course and accompanying bread were removed. Fruit and/or dessert were then served, again, on a small table.
The reason diners needed to say a berachah on dessert in those days is because they thought the bread portion of the meal was over when the main course and bread were removed. In the modern era, however, where everyone eats on a large table, people’s assumptions are different. Often the bread is not removed after the main course, which means people do not automatically assume they won’t be eating more bread.
Thus, the original HaMotzi still covers the food they’re eating. Fruit served for dessert is thus deemed an integral part of the meal and safek berachot l’hakel. (See Bi’ur Halacha 178.)
My conjecture is that some people make a berachah prior to eating fruit nowadays as a reminder of the ancient minhag when everyone ate on small individual tables.