Do you have natural friends? Who is their stylist? Do you even like the results you see when they leave the salon? These are all important questions to ask. If after receiving the answers you decide you like the salon (or stylist), it may also be a good idea to go with your friend to the salon. See how the stylist treats her hair. After you've done al these things, if you're satisfied with what you see, then that may be a great place for you, but HEY, NOT SO FAST, there are still other factors to take into consideration.
Don't have natural friends? GOOGLE IT! I love Google. There's nothing that I won't look up and a salon is no exception. In this day and age you're literally just a few clicks away from seeing what others think about the salons in your area. Find reviews, check out their Facebook page, heck some of them even have YouTube channels now. If all of these things fail you and you can't find enough information, take a visit. See if they are even doing other customers' hair that resembles your own texture. Maybe even call ahead before your visit to see if they may have a curly/kinky textured client coming in soon. Then ask them what they think of the place and how long they've been going to this stylist. Have they followed them from another shop? It won't hurt to ask, I'm sure they're more than willing to share.
Does this stylist that you've researched have consultations? Call and see! A consultation is an opportunity for the stylist to get to know your hair before actually styling it. It is a separate appointment from an actual hair appointment, consider it a pre-appointment. Finding a new stylist is like dating for your hair. You can discuss your hair texture, length goals (or any hair goals you have), allergies, and any other pertinent information about your hair. This is not a one sided Q&A, let the stylist ask you questions. They may want to know things like your own daily styling techniques, what styles you wear most, if your hair has been colored, and what issues your hair has that you want to deal with. This is also a time when you, for a change, can let someone touch your hair! That is why you came to the shop in the first place, right?
If you haven't decided on a particular stylist, and have only narrowed your search down to a salon you can use these consultations, or your observations to see what you like and dislike about certain stylists.
Are you a good fit? Do you enjoy your time there? We all know how loooooooong hair appointments can be, don't let it be a boring and miserable experience. If you don't like the stylist's attitude, or if other people in the salon make you feel uncomfortable, you shouldn't want to spend your hard earned money there. This is supposed to be a relaxing experience for you, a day off if you will. You should be in a stress free, friendly environment. When you analyze your stylist one of the major obstacles is making sure they are listening to your wants, despite what they think is best. You should definitely take their advice into consideration, but it is YOUR hair and you have the final say.
There's nothing worse than a pushy stylist that makes you feel bullied into a style you don't want. Don't let a stylist force you to get a trim, style too tightly, or rake through your hair (detangling can make or break a stylist I'm considering). If you warn them about it once (heck even give them a second chance) and they continue doing whatever it may be or give you attitude for speaking up, don't go back. If it really bothers you, don't even let them finish.
Sometimes the problem isn't a pushy stylist, but a distant one. If she's silent the entire time and that's not the stylist-client relationship you were looking for, then you may need to continue looking at others. If she passes you off for entire processes, that may also be a problem for you. I once had a stylist back when I was relaxed that ignored me with perm in my hair (ouch!), and the washing was the only part she participated in. She completely left the building and when she realized I was going to leave without paying, without a style, and completely dissatisfied her resolution was to have an entirely different stylist finish my hair. She ran through my hair very quickly to get back to her client and needless to say, I DID NOT GO BACK! These things really matter, because you have the purchasing power, without you (the customers) they are out of business and word of mouth is a powerful medium because there are others who really want to hear from you before they waste their time with a rude hairdresser.
TEST the Waters
Emphasis on the word test. Don't go into your first appointment and tell her you want a complete makeover. Get to know one another before you leave serious styling in her hands. Even with a stylist you've had for a while has a chance at giving you a style you don't like as much as you envisioned, so you really shouldn't trust a stranger with that much responsibility.
Last piece of advice, don't go salon crazy. If you find a stylist that you absolutely love and meets all your criteria, that's amazing! However, remember that you had been doing your hair for a while before found her and you've taken great care of it up to that point. No amount of salon visits are as valuable as sticking to your typical regimen. If you go to the salon just for heat styles, then I really discourage frequent visits.